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. 

 

A- in Conjugating, D in Comprehending

**UPDATE 9.28.17** Episode 65 of Tea with BVP, entitled “Does Instruction Speed Up Acquisition,” confirms much of what’s in this post.

I just looked up the 3rd person plural future active indicative form of habēre—or—expressed in a more comprehensible way, I just looked up how to say “they will have.” Before I looked it up, though, habēbunt didn’t sound right in my head. It didn’t sound right because I haven’t received enough input of that word. I also haven’t received enough input of other words with the same ending in different contexts. If I did, I’d have a better chance of being able to extract the parts during my parsing (i.e. moment-by-moment computation of sentence structure during comprehension), and wouldn’t have had to think about how to express “they will have.”

No one dare say that I didn’t study my endings, because I totally did. I got an A- in paradigms. I knew them forwards and backwards, UK and North American order, too! That was after I got a D in comprehension the first time I took Latin because the pace was too fast, and my memory insufficient to learn Latin. Or so I thought…

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“Getting Students to Speak” & Min/Max Partner Retells

How do we get students to speak the target language?

Provide input.

At least, that’s what no one disputes, though not every teacher does enough of it. The biggest misconception regarding how to get students speaking is based on the assumption that the goal—speaking the target language—must be part of the process. This makes sense, but we don’t have much evidence to suggest this is true, despite how intuitive it seems. In fact, if you want get all Second Language Acquisition (SLA) technical, in 1995 Merrill Swain—herself—called her own Output (i.e. speaking/writing) Hypothesis “somewhat speculative” (p. 125).

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Why Novellas? Why “Shelter Vocabulary?”

The new Latin novellas, first published in September of 2015, have been written with sheltered (i.e. limited) vocabulary so the novice student can read Latin confidently after knowing as few as 40 words! This sheltering provides frequent exposure to Latin’s core vocabulary—even more so than textbook narratives, or unadapted ancient texts that seldom repeat words. Why novellas? Why shelter vocabulary? Novellas provide high-frequency repetition for the novice student.

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NTPRS 2017 Takeaways

Before having the opportunity to present a couple workshops, my mind was blown quite sufficiently during the week. Overall, the Advanced Track with Alina Filipescu and Jason Fritze got me thinking about aaaaaaaall the things I’ve forgotten to do, or stopped doing (for no good reason) over the years. Thankfully, most of them are going to be soooooo easy to [re]implement. As for the others, I’ll pick 2 at a time to add—not replace—until they become automatic. This will probably take the entire year; there’s no rush!

Jason referred to high-leverage strategies—those yielding amazing results with minimal effort (i.e. juice vs. squeeze), and I’m grateful that he called our attention to everything Alina was doing while teaching us Romanian. ce excelent! I’ll indicate some high-leverage strategies, and will go as far as to classify them as “non-negotiable” for my own teaching, using the letters “NN.” I’ll also indicate strategies to update or re-implement with the word “Update!” and those I’d like to try for the first time with the word “New!” I encourage you to give them all a try. Here are the takeaways organized by presenter:

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Lance’s thoughts on Lance’s Criticism of “Can’t Read Greek…”

Lance Albury just left a comment on my post, “Can’t Read Greek—Unsurprised but Angry.” I must say that I get a Highlander kind of feeling whenever I cross paths with another Lance—which is quite rare—so I’m not surprised that Lance and I hold opposing views. We have different definitions and assumptions about the nature of language, language teaching, and education, more generally. This post highlights those differences.

Not meaning to be insulting, but I believe your position on reading ancient Greek is simply naive.

Lance is not off to a great start. He thinks that I have a lack of experience, or poor judgment, which means any response I give is likely to be dismissed. This is the reality of supporting your practices when someone already believes you have no idea what you’re talking about—one of the greatest obstacles against mainstream acknowledgement of CI.

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Input Processing: Implications

On last week’s Tea with BVP, Bill VanPatten discussed what humans do when they listen to and read messages, known as Input Processing (IP), and then elaborated on his work with Processing Instruction (PI). Don’t let that acronym palindrome (PIIP, or IPPI) confuse you! Bill’s Processing Instruction (PI) is an instructional technique used to gently push students into linking form and meaning while processing input, although it’s meaning-based and communicative in nature, not explanation-based like pop-up grammar, etc. Regardless of using Processing Instruction (PI), the language teacher should be aware of what’s going on as students process input. So, what do they do first when they listen to, and read messages?

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Active Latin vs. Acquisition of Latin

**See this more-recent post on “Active Latin”**

Justin Slocum Bailey has just written an excellent article about speaking Latin. Though related, my post is about the implications of using the term “Active Latin” as it pertains to classroom practices.

I’ve long felt weird about that term. After synthesizing my thoughts, I now believe that most teachers who use the term to describe their teaching (as informed by Second Language Acquisition (SLA) research) are actually using something closer to “Productive Latin,” which might not lead to language acquisition at all.

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Why Your Language Teacher Failed You

I have WordPress set to automatically post to Facebook, which means many of you reading this aren’t even language teachers. Allow me, then, to explain why you don’t know the language you studied in school (unless, of course, you were lucky enough to have spent time abroad, or to have found yourself exposed to the language in some meaningful way, thus, correcting decades of misinformed pedagogy still pervasive today)…

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Tea with BVP Episode 43: Mind Grenades

Spring semester Tea with BVP starts up again this week, but before the winter break, Bill VanPatten dropped what that weird keynote speaker at ACTFL 2016 would call “mind grenades,” and he dropped quite a few. If there’s one episode to listen to, it’s Episode 43. Among others, here’s one gem that sticks out, and sets up this week’s episode:

“In fact, nothing in a textbook is psychologically real” (click here for a psychedelic treatment of the audio)

Others followed:

  1. “The problem we have is textbook materials…if you look at them closely they’re probably not input-oriented, or meaning-based…here at MSU, for example, all of our homework is input-based (e.g. sentence-level).”
  2. “I think we need to do away with seat time requirements, and we need to do away with grades.”
  3. “As a profession, we need to start making the argument that language is not like other subject matter. We gotta stop treating it like that.”
  4. “One of the questions [aspiring language teachers] asked was ‘how can we study so we can do better on our state proficiency exam?…what tenses should we be studying so I can pass this?’ and I said ‘well you CAN’T study for a proficiency test’…you’re a language teacher, what have you been learning about language and language acquisition that you don’t know the answer to that question yourself?!”
  5. “Output is a byproduct of acquisition, it’s not really necessary for acquisition…there are some people who claim it is, but there’s absolutely no research that shows that it is!”
  6. “There was work that came out in the 70’s showing that actually your knowledge of grammar emerges from interactions with people…it’s about participating in conversations that you gain accuracy in knowledge about a language.”
  7. “Any of us can open a textbook, open a page, and memorize  a page and it winds up in our conscious knowledge, but what actually is in your head is something quite different…the fact that you can conjugate a verb doesn’t mean that’s what you access later on.”
  8. “That’s the problem we have in SLA—there are facts, but people just don’t want to believe them.”
  9. “Talking doesn’t make you learn anything…you do not have to talk in order to learn language, language will get in your head by just listening and reading and watching and seeing.”
  10. “Getting input into your classroom is not my idea of SLA—that’s just SLA. input is necessary, so the consequences is that we need constant exposure to input for our student.”
  11. “The people who were videotaped interacting improved, but then another group that just watched the videotape (and weren’t students themselves) improved just by watching the interaction…and this wasn’t grammar class, just interaction…the group was listening in on other people’s conversations and acquiring some language at the same time.”
  12. “If your classroom is interesting, I could be talking to Angelika but if Walter is listening (because we’re doing something interesting), he’s gonna acquire language.”
  13. “Sometimes slipping an English word is the fastest way to get that meaning across…if your focus is on communication and you spend all this time going around and around and around and people still don’t know what they hell you’re talking about, you could’ve had 10 more min. of Comprehensible Input and interaction because all you needed was one word.”