How do we get students to speak the target language?
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).
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.
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:
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.
**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.
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)…
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)
- “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).”
- “I think we need to do away with seat time requirements, and we need to do away with grades.”
- “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.”
- “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?!”
- “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!”
- “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.”
- “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.”
- “That’s the problem we have in SLA—there are facts, but people just don’t want to believe them.”
- “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.”
- “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.”
- “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.”
- “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.”
- “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.”
Most tricky questions are the misguided product of a teacher thinking they’ve created a valid or rigorous assessment. Validity is when the assessment measures what it’s supposed to measure. This usually means that assessments show that students know what was taught. When it comes to teaching a language, teachers lacking Second Language Acquisition (SLA) training tend to select the wrong thing to be measured (e.g. grammar, cultural facts, etc.). These things usually include tricky details, which lead to tricky questions. Validity then becomes an issue when these teachers use such assessments as evidence that they successfully teach “communicatively” or “for fluency,” when they’re only assessing memory and knowledge about the language system and its speakers. Rigor then muddles things up.
Rigor is not well defined in most school systems, but people (i.e. parents, admin, evaluators, colleagues, etc.) seem confident when they BELIEVE it’s not there. As such, teachers are under pressure to create assessments that seem rigorous, but these assessments just end up being longer (i.e. obtrusive), complex, and downright sneaky. Here’s an example I lifted from a teacher’s assessment. It’s a weak example, but serves our need for the purpose of discussion:
**Updated English Quadrant Word Race to improve gameplay**
This is my take on Martina Bex’s Word Race. I consider our activities to be evolved versions of “flyswatter” games that now align more closely to Second Language Acquisition principles. Skip to Martina’s process if you’re unfamiliar with it, then come back to read about my Curriculum Vocābulōrum Variation: