Independent Reading & Speaking Latin

I recently updated the Universal Language Curriculum (ULC) to include ongoing Class Days and Culture Days. This provides more of a balance to the year without the previous “Unit 1/Unit 2” structure that each lasted approximately an entire semester. I also made sure to list independent reading as a key component. Yeah, I obviously have a stake in whether teachers build class libraries and include my books, but the whole reason I got into writing novellas in the first place is because I bought into the idea of independent reading tenfold…

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Bracey For NEA Director, Prep Time, & Prepped For 2021-22

I continue to claim that teachers have the most positive impact on learning when there’s ample time to reflect and prepare. It sounds basic, but this isn’t reality for most. Ideally, for every class hour taught, there should be at least 30min prep time, and bonus if it’s 1:1 (e.g. teach four classes, have four hours to plan, every day). This probably sounds insane, but only because most teachers have been working insane schedules. It’s unhealthy. Most teachers put up with the madness of something like one guaranteed prep period a day, etc., which leaves them kind of screwed if they teach more than one course, which is almost everyone, especially teachers of less-commonly taught languages (LCTL) who prep all levels as a department of one. No wonder there hasn’t been much innovation in education, there’s no time for it! The solution? First of all, teachers should streamline their practices so they don’t waste that precious time doing something like grading, or giving the same feedback over and over that students won’t read, or pretending their code system will make any difference. Beyond that, it takes adequate funding to hire more teachers. That should be a reasonable ask, and is just one of the many reasons why I’m supporting John Bracey as NEA Director in the runoff, who’s vying for fully-funded public schools in Massachusetts among other crucial fights. It’s ridiculous this even has to be part of any campaign at all, right? Fully-funded public education should be the unquestionable foundation of society, period. Vote Bracey. He’ll get that job done.

Anyway, I’ve finally made it to a point in my career where in these last weeks I get everything ready for the fall. I’ve been close to accomplishing that in the past, but there’s always been this August calendar event I set up that goes something like “read this, review that, create this, think about that,” yet there’s usually no time, even for someone like me hyperaware of prep time. Guess what? I already did all that stuff, and consolidated the ideas into this one post so the work is truly done to start 2021-22.

Posters
I sat in the middle of the room, looked around as if I were a student, and updated every poster that was hard to read. Really, what’s the point of having them if kids can’t see them?! Most are now on 11×17 at 120-pt font, with 80-pt English given below the Latin. Clarity is key, and so is comprehension. I’ll be pointing to these posters a LOT to establish meaning, and then even more when cuing it. I’ve also took down posters I couldn’t remember using. Some posters are nice in concept, but I’m just not gonna refer to fractions in Latin, etc. Also, I’ve redesigned my numbers, and put up my “who needs a boost” and “what would you like?” The latter are actually my first new practices I’ll have to be mindful of, which deserves a number, and bold color to draw attention when I check back in here come August. 1) Use Boosts & Quid velīs?

quālitātēs
Since the cognate list has grown to over 700 words, I updated quālitātēs to have *only* cognates, and dropped the English. There are 19 pages with about 160 words organized by positive, neutral, and negative adjectives. My plan is to show students how much Latin they probably already understand, while at the same time introduce English words not in their vocabulary. For example, diabolicum is just too good of a word to avoid using (any fans of The Boys out there?). I’m also going to use these lists more deliberately, like when we describe characters during storytelling. This is another new practice. 2) Use quālitātēs.

Password Now “Weekly Word(s)
This one’s simple. I used to stop students at the door requiring a rotating class password (but really for a quick check-in), and I wouldn’t let them in if they forgot the password. It was kinda fun except for when it wasn’t. The update is a reframing. No passwords, just weekly words now, but I’ll use the same words/phrases that went over well in the past. The very first one has always been “salvē!” which makes sense. However, I’m adding “…sum [___]” to the end so I get to hear how students pronounce their own name for a week. Can’t believe I hadn’t thought of this sooner!

DEA (Daily Engagement Agreements) Now “Look, Listen, Ask
The update to collecting gradebook evidence that now has a weekly focus on Look, Listen, and Ask means I won’t need to refer to these the way I used to. I’m not even gonna mention the word “rule.” Also, it’s a good thing I wrote about this, because I hadn’t made that Google Form yet. Check! 3) Use new form to collect gradebook evidence on focus areas.

TPR Wall
I’ve never really had much success with Total Physical Response, and haven’t been around students who like to act during collaborative storytelling either (i.e. so no TPRS for me). I’ve just removed all expectations (hopes?) for these things. It’s not the culture here. I’m not gonna force it. Therefore, I cleared up a whole wall that had TPR words, and moved the Look, Listen, and Ask posters over there.

Safety Nets
I’ve already written about this, but it’s worth a reminder that I won’t have to establish the routine.

Digital Fluency Write/Timed Write Form
I’ve been having students type Latin into a Google Form, then count up their words (responses from each class section all link to the same spreadsheet). It turns out there’s a formula =IF(C2=””,””,COUNTA(SPLIT(C2,” “))) that takes care of the counting. Drop it into a column in the spreadsheet, and you’re all set. Check out how close it comes to students counting one-by-one! I still review the student’s writing and adjust for only Latin words & names in that last column, but the formula skips the step of students counting—and miscounting—after writing.

Eval
I’ve been using timed writes for years to show growth. However, I haven’t been totally happy with the measurements used in the teacher evaluation goal setting. For example, if it’s by percentage, some students have increased their word count 1250%, while others by just 5%. If it’s by total word count, some students are writing 89 words, while others are still writing 10. If it’s by word increase, some students have written 74 more words than their first, and others just one or two. Regardless of the measurement, some students start writing a LOT right away, and don’t make much progress because most are just in that plateau of hanging out at Novice High or something. Therefore, I need a more variable goal that takes into account all these situations based on an average of the first three writing samples:

Under 10 will double.
10-30 will increase by 50%.
Over 30 will increase by 25%.

Also, I’ll have to get writing samples early on within a few weeks (not months) so I have a more accurate baseline. I’m also adding two new practices to help increase comprehension when reading, lead to acquisition, and result in higher output. These are alternating between 4) Code-switched Readings and Facing English in addition to full glossaries. Every text will include at least one of these three supports.

Activities
**Update: In particular, I’m gonna be sure to start with Card Talk Stories. This could be 4.5.** Due to remote teaching, I haven’t had much experience with a lot of things on my lists of input-based strategies & activities, and how to get texts. Therefore, I’m not ready to ditch any of them. Also, we’ll have more classes in what should be a more typical year, so I might need to draw from those lists to keep things novel. In particular, I’m thinking of varying reading activities considerably more. So, I’ll be sure to consult the lists when planning. 5) Check lists, weekly.

Syllabus/Learning Plan
For the first time ever in my teaching career, I had the opportunity to review the entire year’s class agendas! I thought I’d end up with a long list of activities and a rough sequence for the year, but no. First of all, I don’t plan more than a day or two in advance, and certainly not more than a week out. Second of all, it turns out I already did some of that work when creating my core practices! However, until I’m familiar with the whole teaching thing next fall—because I DO forget how to teach, every single year—I’ll make it a point to review all those practices: 6) Check out core practices, weekly. Still, looking back at the entire year’s class agendas was helpful. Hands down, I’m keeping “hodiē,” the one doc I open each day and work from, for organization (although I’ll be created a new Google Classroom assignment each week to better help students keep track). Here are some other routines and ideas I found from reviewing the agendas that I want to make sure I include next year:

  • A basic Talk & Read format to each class
  • Start class with date + something else to copy into notebook (statement, story, excerpt, etc.)
  • Use digital class libraries (only print for certain activities)
  • Build in time to read on own (since no more expectations of reading at home)
  • Occasional Flashcard Blitz
  • Brain Breaks
    • JUST a break…lap around school, etc.
    • Rock, Paper, Scissors
    • Higher/Lower prediction w/ cards
    • Which Would You Choose?
    • Fun Facts (but ask as if they were T/F)
  • Use general prompts during novella month (February)
  • Consider January a “reset,” spiraling back down to lower level texts & novellas
  • Do a 1-class CALP more often, and after each novella (poll students on some related topic from the book)

Blog Posts
Also a first in my career, I reviewed every blog post I wrote since last August. Here are various reminders and ideas that might influence the year to come:

Summary
So, here I am. There’s a LOT of stuff in this one post to review come August. After all, I plan to take a full summer break. No PD. No posts?! Maybe. Who knows, but having all my work done in order to set up next year’s success feels real good, and maybe the consolidated resources will help you, too.

Things I Don’t Do (That Many Teachers Do)

Technology
I haven’t asked students to take out a phone, computer, or interact with tech in over 6 years. Quite frankly, there are too many constant problems and disruptions right down to not having any battery life, and students are getting smacked in the face with tech the rest of the school day. I’m over wasting all that time. I, personally, use free web-based tools daily, like Google Docs, but there aren’t any laptop days, computer lab time, Kahoot, etc. Less is more!

Grade (especially at home)
I don’t really do this at all. Anything with a score is done as a whole-class, anything collected is marked as completed, and any rubric resulting in the course grade is self-assessed by students (I just check those afterwards).

Quiz/Test Prep
I don’t create any quizzes or tests. Any quick quiz in class is determined on the spot, is input-based, and is scored together, making it part of class. These are also collected and reported as evidence, but don’t impact a student’s grade. Instead, they’re used to show trends of understanding (e.g. a lot of 3s out of possible 4 means “most.” This could fulfill evidence for a rubric showing a course grade of an A that expects a student to understand “most” Latin).

Lesson Planning
Talk & Read covers everything students need. The rest is just rotating out weekly routines, and giving a new activity a try every now and then. The more variety a teacher has actually means the less experience they have with those activities! There’s a healthy limit to novelty. Don’t underestimate the power of simple practices.

Different Learning Targets/Objectives
I don’t create new ones specific to each day. Mine never change. The point/reason for/target/goal/objective/etc. of each class is that at least one of three communicative purposes (entertainment, learning, creating) is being met. So, I make sure there’s a reason for all that input & interaction during class, and keep things comprehensible. There’s actually no evidence that different objectives make any difference in student learning, let alone acquiring a language! In fact, if any measurement shows that learning has taken place after just one class/lesson based on an objective, don’t trust it! Delay testing, and give no advance warning. That will tell you what’s been learned and acquired, and what hasn’t.

Speaking The Target Language
If a student responds in English, that’s evidence they’ve comprehended. Case closed, folks! I don’t need to play mind games. There’s actually no legit reason for speaking the target language in class when everyone shares another language that’s easier to communicate in…unless one wants to. Some students want to. Others don’t. To recognize the classroom as any other context would be role-play (i.e. pretending you don’t speak another language). I don’t pretend. I do have systems in place to encourage target language use, as well as curb chatter and lengthy story-like responses in English, as well as stay focused on input, but naw, I don’t need to hear Latin to know students know Latin.

Corrective Feedback
C’mon, self-explanatory. The evidence is really piling up by now!

Grammar
I don’t expect students to develop any grammar knowledge. I certainly don’t test it. This is a liberating expectation! Grammar knowledge is unnecessary—in any language—and there’s enough to deal as it is with what’s actually necessary.

Homework
When working at a job, I don’t mess with anything that isn’t in my control. What goes on at home is completely out of my control as a teacher—no judgement—and I don’t need to punish and chase down students for not doing something that probably lacks a communicative purpose anyway. My only assignments involve reading, and no products are attached to that reading. **Just read.**

Projects
I don’t schedule any class time for projects. My experience is that most of the research and work is done in English, which is zero input, and most students get bored after a few of those summative presentations anyway. There needs to be input in the first place in order to make it more comprehensible, right?

From the looks of it, I bet it seems like I don’t do a friggin’ thing. But that’s not true. I spend most of the time creating personalized texts, adapting other texts, and seeking out constant PD—mostly grassroots, from teachers still teaching in the classroom, and who share the same *current* second language acquisition principles that I have. It’s a lot of work, actually, but focused, efficient, and enjoyable. Guess what? My students can read Latin. They even speak it. If that seems impossible—because teachers who do all those things above can have students who understand Latin, yet I do none and get the same results—there’s a magic ingredient. It’s actually the oldest source of success the spoken word has ever known:

Input.

We just have to tap into what all humans are hardwired for and prioritize CI, then the magic happens. Now, you might be a teacher who does, in fact, do all those things above, and likes doing them. Carry on. You might also be a teacher who likes some and not others. Unless you’re required—which might be in your control to change—know that you can drop the things you don’t like without any negative impact whatsoever. Try it.

I expect there might be questions. Let loose.

Skip The Activity?

In terms of input, I’ve observed a few differences between reading independently and reading in pairs, or as a whole-class. The bottom line? Reading independently results in far more input than could be provided in pair, or whole-class activities. Therefore, I wonder if we’re not giving enough time for independent reading, even there are already routines in place (e.g. 10 minutes 2x/week). Could we be better off skipping some or even most of the reading activities in class? Maybe. Granted, independent reading cannot be the only kind of reading done in class since most students not only need input, but also interaction, at least in the K-12 public school context I teach in (conf. Beniko Mason’s more advanced Story Listening students with access to 500+ graded readers). Still, how much less input are students getting with all those activities? Let’s look into that…

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Adapting Latin: No Excuses & Every-Text Tier Challenge

I’ve been writing my next book on the zodiac signs and their associated myths for months now. Despite being intended for the beginning Latin learner, I thought each myth could use an additional, even simpler, version in the final book. Today, it took me only 7 minutes to adapt one of the myths—that I’ve been writing for months—to about 1/4 the length using fewer words. Every teacher can do this kind of thing. Every.

No excuses.

My Every-Text Tier Challenge goes out to all language teachers. To accept and claim honor after observing greater comprehension from students, just take tomorrow’s text—because there’s no good reason your students aren’t reading every day—and write a simplified version of it…right now. Don’t worry about changing formatting if it’s perfect for printing or something. You can project the simplified version tomorrow and read with students just before they read the original (as part of the simple Talk & Read daily lesson plan format). Oh, and does the text have some twists, or juicy details? Leave them out in the simplified version, and you’re on your way to creating an embedded reading.

Keep doing this for every text until you can adapt Latin (or whatever) so fast you don’t have to think about it. No excuses. “No time” is the usual excuse I hear for not doing this kind of thing, but that tends to come from teachers doing too much planning, quiz creating, and/or too much grading. Just do less of all that, and do more simplifying of texts.

Why Bother?
Bottom line, all students will benefit from reading a simple- to super-simple version of a text. There’s also a very good chance that particular students even need a text at a much lower level to truly receive CI (i.e. input that’s *actually* comprehensible, and not just partly- to incomprehensible input).

Oh, and if it takes you too long to adapt your Latin (or whatever), that’s a really good sign that the original text is too high level for students to read, anyway (i.e. also a sign that you need to be giving more comprehensible texts that provide more comprehensible input). So, I challenge you to the Every-Text Tier Challenge. Of course, there’s no need to share this work, especially with Latin shaming still lingering about, so it’s truly the honor system, here. However, I encourage you to discuss the process of simplifying texts in fōra varia, especially if you’re unsure where to begin, or have questions about this important strategy to make language more comprehensible.

Rejoinders: Teacher vs. Students

This year, I’ve begun each quarter by sharing new (or “new”) expectations. These are simple reminders of rules and routines expressed in a slightly different way to keep management tight. For example, Q2 featured “less English, more Latin” to address increased chatter from students becoming more comfortable. This week, I introduced Q3 with “mostly Latin, almost no English.” However, I still don’t require or expect students to speak Latin (i.e. forced output). Here’s how that works…

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Total Words Read

Last year, I reported total words read up to holiday break, and it’s hard to believe that time of year is upon us again. Since part of my teacher eval goal is to increase input throughout the year, let’s compare numbers. 2018-19 students read over 20,000 total words of Latin by this time. However, this year’s students have read…uh oh…just 11,000?!?!

Hold up.

Something’s going on. I’m positive that students are reading more now, and for longer periods of time. Classes are now structured to be roughly half listening and half reading (i.e. Talk & Read), too. So…why don’t the numbers add up?! Surely there’s a reason. Let’s look into that, starting with this quote from last year’s post:

Over the 55 hours of CI starting in September up to the holiday break, students read on their own for 34 total minutes of Sustained Silent Reading (SSR), and 49 minutes of Free Voluntary Reading (FVR)…

This year’s independent reading time has skyrocketed to 99 and 233. That’s nearly 5x more independent choice reading! Now, last year’s 20,000 figure included an estimated 1,900 from FVR. Therefore, it’s not unreasonable to estimate that this year’s students have read something like 9,500 total words during FVR, which would be like reading a third of this paragraph worth of Latin per minute. If so, the year-to-year comparison would be very close (i.e. 20,000 vs. 20,500). However, I’d expect the numbers to be much higher now with even more of a focus on reading. Seeing as it’s really difficult to nail down a confident number during independent choice reading due to individual differences, then, let’s just subtract all that FVR time from both years, arriving at 18,100 to compare to this year’s 11,000, which is still quite the spread. Let’s do some digging…

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