After a most terrible teaching experience (i.e., remote year 2020-21), I wrote about wanting to double my storytelling efforts for the next year. In 2021-22, it didn’t really happen, with us creating only 10 class stories total, all very short, amounting to something like 700 total words of Latin. Come this year, we made just four (about 300 total words) up until November. This is not much Latin at all, and I’ve come to question its value in my classes.
Besides, I don’t miss it one bit, not really enjoying the storytelling process as of late. Did I ever? Not sure. The learning curve for collaborative storytelling is real steep. It’s hard to tell what might have been productive struggle or just stressful struggle. I certainly loved being a student in storytelling demos—what a friend dubbed “Workshop CI”—but I can’t say for sure that I loved asking stories to a classroom of actual teenage kids who were neutral at best, but who usually couldn’t care less. I know I know, the key is to bank on interests and personalize and make class fun and memorable and make students forget they’re learning a language, blah, blah, blah, but that just doesn’t match my reality. It never has (though it was much closer when teaching middle school). Such a magical storyland context certainly exists for some teachers in some schools teaching some languages to some students. Not mine.
So, I’m getting rid of storytelling.
No worries, though. We have plenty of other activities, and plenty of texts since I began writing these for the absolute beginner. Granted, we still need MORE low level books for independent reading options, yet we’ve reached a point where the number of books exceed what could be read as a whole class for the year (which would be boring, anyway, only reading these books by just one author). In terms of novellas (and now novellulas Pīsō…& Quīntus…), we really do begin reading a book the first week. No need to wait until the spring. So, books are a significant part of class content. They’re anchors we use to explore Roman topics. Aside from those anchor texts, we actually have enough sometimes feels like content overload:
MovieTalk texts (do I even like playing and pausing these anymore instead of just watching then reading the text, either?! Hmm…)
I do, however, want to keep the idea of students-as-content. In my experience, this has helped build a safe learning environment and sense of belongingness right from day one of school. Our class stories were always based on something the student liked. Therefore, this new idea just eliminates the story…
Circling isn’t an activity (e.g., “OK class, let’s answer some circling questions”) or something you plan to last 20 minutes during the next class. It’s a strategy, and Von Ray was right. In 2017, he told a small room of TPRS workshop participants “if there’s no breakdown [in processing the language], we don’t circle.“ The strategy was developed as part of collaborative storytelling. No wonder that’s the context in which it works best! Sure, any language learner will benefit from getting micro-exposure to a small set of words, which is what takes place during circling and during the TPRS 2.0 update of triangling (i.e., circling with 3rd, 1st, and 2nd verb persons). Yet, there are times when circling falls flat…
There appears somewhere, in some publication, the following quote:
“…though he does not lower his expectations and students really do still have to memorize things.”
The source isn’t important. The “he” doesn’t matter (it’s not me, btw). It’s the rest of this statement that deserves a duly critique, not an ad hominem. Shall we?
Assumptions In my research, I’ve been learning about “positionality,” which is making one’s interests, motivations, and assumptions known. I’ve also heard these referred to as “priors.” A researcher’s assumptions might be found in their theoretic framework section, which allows readers to understand the perspective, and situate the entire study. For example, the same study could be conducted by two teachers: one whose theoretical framework supports comprehension-based language teaching, and another who rejects that. Everything, from the epistemological view to the research question(s), data collection, interview protocol, analysis and interpretation—all of it—rests upon one’s assumptions. Well, in unpacking the quote above, we can identify three assumptions:
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 quālitātēsto 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.
PasswordNow “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.
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)
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.
Here’s a quick note about TPRS (Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling) and other collaborative storytelling methods and strategies…
They require interaction.
This has become painfully obvious to me after teaching on Zoom for over a year in a public high school, where responses to polls are few, participation is low, and circling is next to impossible in most contexts (unless you happen to have surprisingly high levels of participation). I mean, we can certainly fake circling by doing something similar via those polls and chat, but it moves a LOT slower than that in-person question after question pace complete with reading the room (i.e. “teach to eyes” etc.). On Zoom, the process gets bogged down. That’s not circling. The point of circling is to give students a massive amount of exposure to a small set of words by asking many different questions that students can answer without hesitation. It’s actually the answering of questions that’s so key, not only to keep an eye on who might be getting lost (and then ask “what does X mean?” comprehension check), but also to get the details you ask for, as well as the surprise responses that can take the story in an unexpected yet highly compelling turn. Hence, interaction.
Yet “interaction” can be woefully misunderstood and misinterpreted to mean full-on conversations. That’s not what we need with collaborative storytelling at all. We need to provide students messages in the target language via a process that might feel ad nauseam to us, but is probably just enough (or maybe not quite enough!) for the beginner. That’s happens from questions, statements, and then restating everything that happens.
THAT kind of interaction is crucial. Other types of interaction might occur, or even prove to be beneficial in certain cases, especially in other activities, but without student responses during collaborative storytelling—not just the ones that get details—we got nothing.
Imma take a break from playing Root and get back to my teaching roots. Several recent experiences have reminded me that the most effective teaching practices are the basics, hands down. Obviously, COVID messed with us big time, but I’m afraid some of us have done a little too much adjusting that might result in lingering bad habits. Let’s face it, we pulled out all the stops on that beastly concert organ that was remote learning, and not all of what we did to make it happen could be considered even OK practices. We want good practices, and best ones whenever possible. Oh, and it’s been a while. Consider this: it will have been over two years since starting the school year with tried and true practices you’ve known to be effective. Yeah, that’s right. No one really did that in 2020, so it was August or September of 2019 when you last began the school year how you wanted. Will you remember what all those practices were? I’m not confident I will, so I’m writing this post to remind myself about them roots. Feel free to follow along…
“Why are students failing?” Or, more specifically, “why are teachers failing students, especially in a pandemic?” A question like that was asked on Twitter sometime last month, and I had a fairly simple take on the matter: teachers didn’t adjust expectations. Sure, kids might not be “doing the work,” but it’s teachers who determine evidence of learning that comprises “the work” in the first place. Our reality is that most evidence of learning we used to get just isn’t possible remotely, or there are significant obstacles in the way. Bottom line, teachers have set expectations that not every student can meet. Even though I anticipated this, my expectations still needed adjusting, too. First, here’s a brief rundown of problems that lead to the “My Time” solution…
In a report on the 2018 National Latin Exam Survey, the number of teachers primarily using grammar-translation (478) was over twice that of the next most-used “Reading Method” option (202), and over 16 times that of the least-used “Active Latin” option (27). The other options given were CI, and TPRS. You might already see the problem there. That is all those options were labeled as “methodologies/techniques/philosophies” on the survey, likely in an attempt to account for all the differences between terms. However, such a comparison is like asking “what do you primarily do in class?” That is, there’s almost no coherency between the five options. For example, a teacher could use the TPRS method to provide CI, and in doing so be characterized as using Active Latin. The only clearly distinct option is grammar-translation, yet that still doesn’t show the extent to which grammar is present in one’s teaching (i.e. grammar is also included in “Reading Method” and possibly “Active Latin”). Therefore, I wanted to send out a new survey that focused on practices rather than terms prone to misunderstanding. I did just that in June of 2020. In this post, I share those results…
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…
Last Wednesday, we did our first MovieTalk (yes, still calling it this because I have no intentions or expectations of students acquiring specific vocab, and that’s peachy according to Dr. Ashley Hastings’ 2018 note to teachers who were misinterpreting the method). Believe it or not, but Wednesday’s MovieTalk has been the *ONLY* story so far. Yep. Other than that, no stories. With student interviews (i.e. Discipulus Illustris/Special Person), discussions based on a simple prompt (i.e. Card Talk), and questions about the weekend and upcoming week (i.e. Weekend & Week Chat), class has been compelling enough without any narrative. But stories are awesome, and we have a ton of other MovieTalk texts already prepared for every other week, so I’m thinking now is a good time to get into collaborative storytelling…