4th Class, 1st MovieTalk

This has been the 3rd year in a row that I’ve wanted to start the year cold with a story on Day 1, but have bailed. I was even close this year with Von Ray’s No-Travel story script, but it still didn’t happen. I’m thinking that it’s just not my style, which is fine, but it’s already clear to me that my students need to experience something new besides Total Physical Response (TPR), Personalized Questions & Answers (PQA), and subsequent reading activities. Still, a class story via Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling (TPRS) doesn’t feel like it’s going to be a home run for us right now, so I need a solution.

MovieTalk.

When I saw Von Ray last winter, he mentioned that MovieTalk is the easiest first step to storyasking. He’s right. Even if you have absolute novice students, just narrate at their levelI’d normally wait for more TPR, or Discipulus Illustris to establish a solid foundation of familiar words, but I’ve decided to do a MovieTalk for this 4th Latin class of the year, which is the 4th week of school (i.e. Latin 1x per week).

The Present is one of the 9 animated shorts used in TPRS Books’ Look, I can MovieTalk! available in Spanish, French, and soon—with hope—Latin! I already know that after just 3 classes my students won’t be able to read even the simplest versions of any MovieTalk readings out there, so I’ve created a super simple Embedded Reading for The Presentretold in 3 versions. 

The text doesn’t limit, or represent exactly what I’ll narrate and ask in class, but it does represent a safe amount of language that my students will understand as a follow up reading. I wouldn’t go as far as to call this a parallel reading, but I’ll likely ask Personalized Questions & Answers (PQA) that stray from the script. That’s a good thing.

You’ll notice that while the word count increases from 13 to 25 from Version 1 to Version 3, the total words figure drops from 71 in Version 2, to 63 in Version 3. Why? There’s less of the recycled exposure to words found in Version 2 because there’s more new information in each version, not just longer sentences, or more sentences about the same information. By the time the student reads the last version, they will have been exposed to the recycled language enough to make repetition less important. I’ve also deliberately used more transparent cognates to support comprehension, and kept the word count low, replacing the classic “there’s a problem” phrase with an already known interjection, “oh no!” I’m still using Picturae images whenever possible, and establishing meaning with English for more abstract words, or possibly ambiguous images (e.g. I couldn’t find a clear image for a generic ball). You’ll also notice that Version 3 has a more typical Latin word order, which students are more likely to be able to read once they’ve understood the meanings of the words in an order similar to English. This is a deliberate strategy for making Latin more comprehensible, and shouldn’t be seen as negative, or damaging. See a February post on Input Processing for more.

The 2 class day (for me, 2 week) plan:
Day 1 = MovieTalk, then Choral Translation of Version 1.
Day 2 (a week later for me) = Choral Translation of Version 2, something else unrelated (like Discipulus Illustris), then Silent T/F Reading of Version 3.

Like Justin Slocum Bailey wrote, Choral Translation is best used sparingly, yet 7 days between classes makes comprehension even more of a priority so that students stay super confident. Also mentioned on the latest Tea with BVP, written input helps students find word boundaries that aren’t necessarily obvious when listening. Knowing these boundaries helps in the search for words, and the search for words—big content words and not their endings—is what novice through intermediate students are doing!

Silent T/F Reading is new, which I got from NTPRS 2017 (i.e. partners read silently for X minutes, then draw just 2 pics: one True, one False. Swap, then partner chooses correct. Pass to other groups, and partners choose correct. Show a few on document cam, PQA, etc.).

Picture Talk: A Discipulus Illustris Follow-Up

Adriana Ramirez shared videos of her and her students doing Picture Talk on Facebook. I apologize if you can’t see them, but the reality is that most of my professional groups have now migrated to FB, which is becoming THE way to remain current in the field, apparently.

Adriana used old family photos for Picture Talk topics of conversation (keeping in mind “conversations” with Novice language learners are interactive, yet require just a few words from students. The teacher—to the dismay of evaluators in the dark—SHOULD be doing most of the talking, here). Once her students developed a higher proficiency level by the end of the second year, she had them bring in their own pictures to talk about. I find it amazing that Adriana continued to provide input, and encourage interaction all throughout the “presentation” of the main student by engaging the class with questions, and checking back in with the main student—basically using Storyasking actor questioning techniques. In a more conventional rule-based language classroom, the teacher would be hands-off, and other students likely bored after 5 or 6 presentations. Not in Adriana’s class.

I instantly thought of how this could follow up Discipulus Illustris (one of 7 language versions of La Persona Especial). Although Adriana had second year students do the presenting, you could do this early on with students of lower proficiency—just be the one providing input and encouraging interaction. To do this, a student emails you a pic to use as a prop. Yes, students are great props, but something novel to look at should grab the attention of others just because it’s different, and fools the mind into thinking the activity is completely different while you could be asking the very same Discipulus Illustris questions about the picture!

I love how it’s no-prep. Actually, it’s can’t-prep, which is exciting on its own. Sure, you could preview the pic (especially if you have students engaging in tomfoolery often), but part of the fun is keeping it lively with unexpected, compelling diversions from what is likely a boring school day. Teachers need to feel energized as well, so try something new.

Storyasking: Mixed Tenses

“Sheltering vocabulary while unsheltering grammar” refers to using ANY grammar necessary to express ideas while limiting words. This mantra has been instrumental in the design of our latest Latin novellas since it simultaneously reduces cognitive demand while casting a broad net of input, exposing students to different verb forms as they attend to fewer “big content word” meanings. Despite this unsheltering, sometimes we have to make a decision about when our story takes place! This establishes a focus—perhaps unwanted—on one tense or another.

If we, indeed, want to expose students to that broad net of input, we can respond appropriately without sacrificing any communicative value. Here are some very practical ways to conceptualize the use of different tenses in stories, and what to do in order to add variety to the verb forms used in stories and readings:

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The No-Travel Story Script

Also from Von Ray’s recent TPRS workshop, his German demo sheltered (i.e. limited) vocabulary so well that it focused on 3 verbs (e.g. is, has, wants) of those top 5 (+ likes & goes). I’ve always been uncomfortable with the idea of a Day 1 cold opening story, though many skilled TPRS teachers find it to be the most engaging way to start the year, so this script might just be what I was looking for! With no need for any character to travel to the standard 3 locations, the questions and details concern one or two parallel characters—an essential Storyasking skill to begin building.

The conflict to resolve in Von’s story was “is in jail, because doesn’t have.” Here’s the plot outline:

  • there’s a character
  • character is in jail because s/he doesn’t have something
  • parallel character is somewhere, but not in jail
  • character’s mother is in the hospital, and has what the character doesn’t have
  • character laments (e.g. “Ooh noo, mother! I’m in jail! I’m in jail because…I want…”)
  • mother laments (e.g. “Ooh, [character], I’m in the hospital because I’m sick…”)
  • character says s/he wants what the mother has
  • mother says that it’s not her problem (lol!)
  • parallel character(s) has/have what the character wants
  • parallel character(s) may, or may not give the character what s/he wants
  • story resolves, or doesn’t

If a parallel character gives the item to the main character, add “gives,” or the command “have!” if your language can do that, limiting the verbs to just “is, has, wants,” and “says.”

Grumio, in the Triclinium, with the Gladius: Integrating Culture

**Updated 12.13 with this clue tracking sheet for teams**

Latin Clue - Roman VillaEvery Latin program has that perfunctory “Roman house” unit in which students memorize the layout and names of various rooms in a vīlla or domus, and then read (or translate) a narrative loosely connected to those rooms. This got me thinking; is there a more meaningful way to learn about the Roman house through a game? To be clear, gamification usually sucks (e.g. playing a board game to teach prepositions), so the key is to align the game objective with a communicative task in Latin. On Episode 42 of Tea with BVP, Bill stated that “we communicate in order to learn, build, create, entertain, and socialize,” so what better task covering at least 3 of those purposes than a “whodunit” based on Clue™?

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FVR Library: Easier Than You Think!

**Updated 3.7.19**
Hypermiling to add packets of text to the FVR shelf regularly!

Mike Peto had great things to say about Free Voluntary Reading (FVR) and Sustained Silent Reading (SSR) on Episode 6 of Teachers That Teach.

How could it possibly be easy? Mike recommends building your FVR library by first making booklets of known class stories that are 100% comprehensible.

THAT’S SO SIMPLE!

This is obvious, yet doesn’t seem to be a common practice, especially for Latin teachers lamenting over the legitimate lack of understandable reading material! If you think about it, the typical Latin teacher engaged in collaborative storytelling/storyasking probably has 10 stories by the holiday/winter break, and maybe even twice, or thrice that! Unless the class has been reviewing old stories as part of a detail-adding, or story-improving activity (which is great, BTW), there’s a good chance that students have forgotten details from the earliest of stories and wouldn’t mind a gentle walk down memory lane. Oh, and students should be able to read them fluently (speed + accuracy), which is a great confidence booster!

So, with everything you need to build an FVR library before more hideously easy books are published and you get funding for several copies, go format those typed-up class stories for booklets, print ’em out, and start setting aside class time for reading!

How? How much time?
An FVR program is simple to begin. Remember, this is FREE reading, so it’s best to avoid assessments and accountability. If all students are reading the same book, it’s known as Sustained Silent Reading (SSR), although Mike said that he calls it that anyway just so students don’t say something snarky like “well if it’s voluntary I’m gonna just sit here.” Once you have a few materials, be sure to hold FVR consistently. If you can’t do it daily, start weekly. As far as time goes, Mike says “if students can read for 7 minutes, give them 5—you don’t want them to get bored with it.” This is good advice. I’ve been doing 15 minutes every few days, but I’ve noticed that a murmur develops towards the end…looks like I’ll drop down to 12min or so and see what happens.

One Word Image/Picture/Drawing

This is probably the most effective no-prep activity you should become familiar with:

1) Say or ask for one(1) word.
2) Draw it on the board (or have the Class Artist draw it).
3) Ask about it, and add details to the image.

I’m never at a loss for what to add because I rely on my Question Word Posters as reference to drive the image. Looking at the posters around my board, I usually just ask questions in order and get corresponding supporting details without planning a single thing. Here’s an example that began with a single word, fūr (thief)…

Where? = The thief is in Starbucks
From Where? = Lived in Spain
To Where? = Wants to go to Peet’s Coffee in Berkeley, not Cambridge
What? = Has a gladius (Roman sword)
Who? = The thief’s name is Tom
Whose? = The gladius is actually the Starbucks barista’s gladius
When? = It’s night time
Whom? = The thief sees someone with a better, bigger gladius
With Whom? = Donald Trump (obviously!)
To Whom? = The Starbucks barista gives a coffee to Donald Trump
How? = The thief has the gladius because he stole it from the Starbucks barista
How many? = Actually, the Tom the Thief has 7 gladiī—one from each Starbucks in Starbucksville
What sort of? = Tom is actually a bad thief…the Starbucks barista saw him steal the gladius
Why? = Donald Trump is there because he wants to buy all the Starbucks’

Note how some of the details don’t connect (e.g. there is another person with a sword but doesn’t get mentioned again), but realize that they don’t have to. We’re just creating an image, not any kind of plot. Also note, however, how easily this COULD turn into a prompt for a Timed Write, or a Storyasking session, especially given the image we’ve established as a class.