Thursday, May 29, 2014

Four Days of Comprehensible Input: Day 2

So I was contemplating this post while I made dinner for my family tonight (a job I only take on during the summer--my kind husband feeds us during the school year because he seems to think nothing but hamburger helper and sandwiches is unhealthy) and I realized that comprehensible input is like a gazpacho.  Actually, to be clearer, it's not.  It's like cooking.

You see, I was making a gazpacho because summer is also a time that I like to try new culinary things, and I've never had gazpacho before.  Gazpacho is one of those things I would have never tried to make when I was younger and didn't know how to cook, because it sounded so fancy that I knew it had to be difficult.  Yet it's not.  I basically chopped some well-balanced vegetables and blended them up with some spices.  It tasted great and has now been added to my repertoire of summer recipes.  I'll use it when the right opportunities crop up.

This reminded me of learning to cook.  My husband did not marry me for my cooking ability.  At the time we married, the agreement was that he'd cook everything (for our survival's sake) and I would clean the bathroom.  And we were satisfied with this arrangement, because he liked to cook and I viewed the process of creating recipes as something akin to magic.  I did not know how to do it, how others did it, or how someone could ever cook on his or her own.

I promise this is relevant.

Learning to use comprehensible input, if you haven't used it in your class before, is like learning to cook.  I know this more than most people I know, because I didn't really learn to cook well until I was an adult.  Watching or hearing about the practice can make it feel unattainable at times, like the magical ability to create a new recipe.

But the key to learning how to cook is finding one recipe to really learn and understand.  Get to know that recipe, how it works for you, and learn how to change it to suit your personal taste and needs.  That first step opens the door to understanding all kinds of recipes and foods, and soon you find you don't need recipes except when trying something new, adding new understanding to your collection of resources.

The best first step with starting comprehensible input is the same.  Miriam and I have posted many different comprehensible activities, theories, and starting points on this blog.  Pick one.  Go to a workshop, and pick one thing.  Read other blogs about comprehensible input. Pick one method to bring to your classroom.  The important thing is to ease your way in.  Pick one thing, one way to change the way you teach in your classes, and perfect it.  Get to really know it, really understand it.  Get comfortable.  Then, when you're comfortable, when you know how to take this one method or activity and make it yours and suitable to you different classes, pick another.

The great mistake that is made, often and repeatedly, is to try to adopt a new approach wholesale.  To take everything someone successful does and assume that if you do the same thing you will be successful.

But you are you, not that other person.  You need to find out what works for you.  So pick one thing.

This morning we began with Bob's testimonial.  Bob has been my friend for a while now, so I am familiar with his story, but it is another great story of a teacher who came to teaching via an indirect path and found out that it was his passion.  However, he'd only learned Latin one way--by memorizing charts--and that was how he taught his first Latin students.  His greatest frustration at that time was his retention rate.  Students did not continue to Latin III when he took over the program.  He had 0% retention.

It wasn't until he experienced learning a new language (Spanish) in a comprehensible way that he realized that perhaps his approach to teaching Latin could be different.  He wanted to bring this approach to his own classes, but had never spoken Latin before.  So he picked one thing.  He chose classroom management statements, things he said every day that he could prepare ahead of time.

From there Bob attended immersion institutes (the only way to get immersion as a Latin teacher), worked on improving his Latin, and slowly brought new ideas, new techniques, and new methods into his classroom.  Now he teaches Latin in Latin, carefully and comprehensively, but he did not begin that way, nor did he just sort of suddenly decide to only speak Latin and it was easy for him.

I know that sometimes these new techniques can seem like gazpacho would have seemed to me years ago--something too hard, too fancy, impossible for someone like me to do.  But if you take the chance, try something you think might be hard or fancy, you might find out that not only is it easier than you thought it would be, but you actually like it too.

Bob's current high school, the same high school I now work in along with the beauteous Caroline Miklosovic, now has a retention rate of over 60% for Latin; over 60% of the students who begin with us at Latin I continue through Latin IV.  It's a phenomenal number, and one we'll continue to try to increase.  It is also a great reflection of the difference comprehensibility in the classroom makes for the students there.

Classroom Management

Our focus for whole-group learning today was classroom management in a CI classroom.  The first thing that Lauren discussed was building rapport with your students.

Lauren pointed out, and I agree, that rapport is one of the most underutilized and underappreciated methods of classroom control.  With a good rapport alone, you can get most students to do what you ask of them, simply because they trust you--that you care about them, that you are trying to teach them the best way possible, that you are trying to do the best you can for them all around.  Of course, there are still some discipline issues.  Of course, there are students who will still struggle, who are still bringing baggage to class that you can't help them with.  But you can avoid many simple issues if you have a great relationship with your students.

However, there is no reason for a person to simply hope that a rapport grows between himself and his students; building rapport can be done consciously.  The advice I normally give is to listen to students, remember their stories, and ask questions.  Lauren and Bob had more specific advice (that is probably more helpful):
Ways to let students know you care about and are interested in them:

  • On the first day of school ask students: “What is important to you?” “Why does it matter?” (Miriam went into detail on these questions and why they matter here.)
  • Greet students at the door: this is an opportunity to connect with each kid and let him or her know “I see you.”
  • Keep a birthday calendar: when it's a student's birthday, sing, give a card, or do something else to recognize that student.
  • Keep a brag wall.  Students can post articles or news or achievements that relate to themselves.
  • Circling with Balls: I discussed this activity in yesterday's post. However, more specifically, if you focus on two kids per day for two weeks you will get to know all of your kids over time.
  • Personalized Question and Answer: PQA is literally about the kids themselves. That builds a relationship.
  • Offer as an extra credit quiz question: “Tell me something about yourself that I don’t know.” You will find out both great and heart-wrenching information that students haven't had the chance to tell you, all for giving up a couple of points.
  • Send postcards home to parents of particularly difficult students with positive things. This is extremely powerful.
  • Assign jobs for TPRS--this gives students ownership of the class and responsibility.
  • Teaching to the eyes.  If students aren't connecting visually, then you are most likely not creating a relationship with them.
  • Create a safety net for students to use when speaking in the target language. List items on the wall where they are visible to students for them to use when you are speaking if they feel overwhelmed. Essential items:
    • "Yes" and "No"
    • "What does ___ mean?"
    • "How do you say ___?"
    • Gestures for "slow down" or "I don't understand"
Bob took over the classroom management discussion to discuss power relations between teachers and students, specifically the difference between a "power over" and a "power with" relationship, and how a "power with" relationship forces students to take responsibility for their behavior and learning.  Miriam actually did a write up over this concept in her blog post over the no fail classroom.

The conversation then turned to Assessment. Bob pointed out that a grade should be a means of communicating success.  He then suggested that the communication should be fluid and flexible for the simple reason that success motivates.  If a student is able to prove that he or she has improved knowledge in an area, then the grade should reflect that.  Grades should not be a means of behavior control--that is classroom management and relationships.  Bob says he makes it clear in his classes that not being successful is not acceptable.  

So how can he do that?  As his colleague, I can tell you that he breaks his tests into multiple grades in the grade book, based on what each section was checking mastery of. If a student takes a test and fails the vocabulary section, for example, the student can request tutoring and a retest within 48 hours of the original test.  He himself follows the TPRS 80% rule: don't move on until at least 80% of your students have at least 80% of the material mastered. He also offers students a last-chance sort of question on assessments: "What were you prepared to tell me that I didn't ask?" The information they provide can replace a missed question of a similar vein (grammar to grammar, vocabulary to vocabulary, etc.).  

Bob then talked about the power of offering a bonus question, "What is going on in your life right now?" This question has had surprising results for him; there were the normal answers and updates, but there were also deeply personal and unbearably sad admissions, things that allowed Bob insight into student behaviors. All answers received the same credit, but some changed the way he viewed his students.

The next point was to "claim your power as the expert" while still telling students "I am your ally."

Every time Bob starts a new activity, he explains
  • the why of the activity--this is surprisingly effective. I personally always am ready to answer the question if it comes up (it's fun to give a list to a student who for some reason thought you wouldn't know why you do what you do), but this is a nice preemptive step.
  • what we are going to do
  • what is required for success
Bob also offered us the cardinal rules for comprehensible input in the classroom:
  • Establish meaning
  • Point and pause
  • SLOW

CI Builds and Fosters Community

Keith then talked about the natural community that is created simply by teaching in a comprehensible way. He pointed out that traditionally teachers shape their curriculum and classes around a textbook, and that's understandable. It is by no means a disparagement to say that the textbook is safe and easy. He talks about going back to the textbook and what he knows and what is comfortable and familiar to him when doing comprehensible input would become too exhausting.  I don't know a CI teacher who hasn't done the same. It is hard to do comprehensible approaches all the time. They don't allow for worksheets. They expect you to shelter vocabulary, when textbooks and district mandated tests don't. Depending on work load, it can feel necessary to go back to a traditional approach sometimes.  Don't think that it makes you a failure; just do what you can and return to CI when you feel comfortable and ready.

Keith said he really values the comprehensible input philosophy because it in and of itself creates community. The methods say to students "I see you," "I value you," and "I want your opinion," simply because they ask for student interaction and input.

Keith offered us teacher testimonies--names
may have been changed to protect the
Keith demonstrated asking a story for us in English.  It is nearly impossible to describe that here--scripting it would be uncomfortable and would simply interfere with my own participation in the seminar.  However, I have done my best to describe asking a story in writing here, and it is included in my demonstration here, so hopefully you might be able to find some guidance in both of those resources.

Advice Keith gave was to choose a student or teacher to feature in the story who can have fun with it.  I had a wonderful student a few years ago who was game for just about anything the class would throw at him.  I think they killed him off in the stories just about every way a person can die, and many ways that are pretty much impossible, but his attitude was always positive and he was always fun.  This made him a great choice as a story character because he understood that it wasn't personal and all in great humor.

He also mentioned something that is often lost when watching people demonstrate asking stories, because these people are experienced storytellers by that point.  That is that he started with a script. He wrote out every sentence, every question, expected student answers, basically each spoken language item was on a paper in his hand.  He told his kids he was trying something new and asked them to come with him on the experiment. And they did.  Just like mine did, when I held a script in my hand. Just like Bob's did when he taped scripts around his classroom to help him remember the Latin for "open your books."  Learning to teach this way is a process, like cooking.  A script is just a recipe you can follow until you're ready to cook on your own.

Movie Talk

I read this whole page on my second day
of French!

The last thing was a quick demonstration in English of Movie Talk (Miriam posted about the same here; she and I have been doing the same activity in our classes this year, which I began after I observed Bob's class and his own Movie Talk activity). When we broke out into our immersion groups, Lauren gave us a reading based on the previous day's vocabulary, and had us read it and discuss it with question and answer.  Lastly, she let us experience a Movie Talk in French.  I am finding the experience of being a student in an unfamiliar language really helpful for perspective.  I recommend that anyone who can, do so.  Even if you just have a friend who speaks another language, practice on each other and take turns being teacher and student.  It is invaluable.

If you missed Day 1, you can find the post here. For Day 3, the post is here.

Movie Talk/Movie Shorts

Rachel has been documenting our experience in a county in-service on Comprehensible Input led by Keith Toda, Bob Patrick and Lauren Watson. I won't repeat what she's already written, but you can read her first post here. I will say that, having taught using CI methods for 4 years, I am loving this conference and am learning some amazing new things!

One of the activities they covered, which I have come to love this year (absolutely love) is called Movie Talk/Movie Shorts. When I heard we were doing them, I quite nearly jumped out of my seat with excitement, almost ruining at least three people's coffees, including my own. That is how much I love this activity.

The particular example I will be sharing is from my own untextbooking unit on the Sea and, particularly, Pliny's story about the Octopus in book 9 of his Historia Naturalis.

Set Up
  1. Choose your video. I chose films based on, primarily, the vocabulary I was working with. I can edit the grammar to be whatever I want for whatever level I want, but the vocabulary needs to be sheltered, so this was key. For this particular unit, I was focusing on words like polypus (octopus), transcendit (climb across), and tam/adeo/tantus...ut... (he was so.... that...). Youtube has a wide variety of videos. All one has to do is search for Pixar Shorts, Disney Shorts, or movie shorts.
  2. Write Your Script. You won't need it except for the first few times you use it, but it is good to have it written down, especially since you will be pausing the video in key spots. I found this to be, by far, the most time consuming of the project, but even then, if you have chosen a video and know your end goals clearly, it did not take more than a few minutes. 
  3. Set up support activities. This is a great CI activity that you can use for one day or for multiple days. You can use other activities like TPR and TPRS with this. After we spent the first day going through this video, we then did it daily for a while, but only once, and paired with embedded readings, PQA, and TPRS. 
1. First, show the video - without interruption. This is a key step for a few reasons. It lets the kids familiarise themselves with the video and story line and, if it is particularly cute, funny, scary, or has a twist ending, they get to enjoy it. Here's the video I used.

2. Show the film again. This time, pause it at your pre-determined places and fill it with vocabulary. If you are using this to introduce new vocabulary, be sure to limit it to 3-4 new words/phrases. So, in this video, I would pause and introduce, new words are underlined - polypus (octopus), amat (loves), vir (man), rapta (stolen), coquus (cook), autoraeda (car), currit (run), transcendit (climb across), and so on...

3. Show the film a third time. This time, pause again, and give your sentences from your script. Be sure to move slowly, point to new words/images, etc. Here is the script I wrote for this film.

4. Show the movie a fourth time. This time, you can start asking questions and circling. Be sure to repeat the sentences from your script, circle new words and phrases multiple times, and ensure student understanding. When students start finishing the sentences for you, you know they are ready to start producing.

Follow Up

There are quite a few follow up activities for this kind of activity. I mentioned PQA, TPR, and TPRS as supplemental, but they can surely follow this activity as well. I would, for sure, recommend a follow up activity, but I would also caution to make sure the activity fits the needs of the unit and class interest. 
  • Embedded Reading - You can make an embedded reading based on the video and your script or on any TPRS work you've done with this vocabulary. I did not do an embedded reading with this particular video, but it is something I am considering for next year for every video, even if we don't use it in class, to give students that opportunity and resource. 
  • PQA - This can be used while working with the video or after. You can ask students questions about a time when they experienced what the characters experienced or were in a similar situation. 
  • Sentence Frames - I used this as a set up activity with this video, asking students to imagine a monster invading their home and what would happen. You can use it after, especially with a video that has a twist ending, to lead into some PQA or a really nice TPRS story and embedded reading. 
  • Timed Write - This is the follow up I chose, for this video. When students are ready to produce, give them time to complete a writing of all they can about the video. I found that after doing the video repeatedly, students easily increased their writing time and wanted more time to finish their own writing. 
  • Group Discussion - This is another follow up I did. Students were put in groups and practiced their own script for the film. I liked this because it allowed me to see who took the lead and who didn't as well as which groups remembered what the best. I could quickly assess what I needed to review and what we could keep moving forward with. 
Student Reactions
I am going to talk about this more in an "end of the year review" post soon, but overall my students love this activity. I think I only had one student say (s)he didn't like it. students found it helpful, entertaining, interesting, and informative. These are often videos they know and love and they really enjoy the comedy/tragedy of it all. Some of their specific feedback
  • It makes it easier to see and understand vocabulary. 
  • It is fun to watch and talk about. 
  • The combined visual and oral aspect make it easy to grasp the ideas behind what we learn. 
  • It's easy to talk about and get into. 
  • I look forward to this. 
The simple fact that students like it and look forward to it makes me want to do it more often. I enjoy this activity, immensely, and the students feed off my excitement making it low stress, which raises student acquisition. 

Let me know if you try this activity and, if you do, what videos you use. :)

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Four Days of Comprehensible Input: Day 1

Bob Patrick presents Comprehensible Input theory.
I know I did a blog post about the the same topic this time last year.  What can I say?  When I find a method--or really, a philosophy--of teaching that works, I do as much research and training as I can in that method.  As Bob said today, there is always something new to learn.  The great thing about adopting comprehensible input as a teaching philosophy is that it can include so many, many different approaches and ideas and as long as I'm delivering understandable messages in the target language I'm doing it right.

So I'm attending a four day comprehensible input seminar again this year.  It's again led by Robert Patrick and Keith Toda (with Lauren Watson, a great TPRS teacher in French).  Yes, there has been some repetition--at which points I will refer you back to my previous post--but there was a lot of new as well.  And the approach is different this year, based less on discussion and more on demonstrations which has been fun.  Lauren Watson has led the breakout sessions for the Latin teachers so we get to learn some French and experience the method from the learner's perspective.

Testimonial Time

We began the day with a testimonial by Keith Toda (@silvius_toda on twitter).  Keith described his love of grammar, something I think most of us language teachers can sympathize with--after all, we got here because we love pretty much every aspect of language, including the chewy grammar center--and his very indirect path toward becoming a language teacher.

When Keith became a Latin teacher, he found that while he loved grammar, not everyone else did, and while he found it an easy and exciting puzzle to solve, his students just found it frustrating.  When he moved on to a reading focused textbook, things improved, the students were engaged, however there was a huge disconnect between the stories that had been written for the students and the high level Latin texts students are required to read to prepare for the Latin AP Test.  Keith said that he blamed himself ("Obviously I'm not teaching them well enough") and his students ("They're lazy") before he began to consider the method.  He started looking around and using comprehensible input.  This year, based on past success with his experiments in CI, he taught his class entirely using CI methods and found great success again this year.

Keith emphasized at the end of his testimonial that grammar is still part of teaching with comprehensible input--it's just taught in a different way.

Brief Interlude That Will Be Visited Upon in a Meaningful Way Later

We were asked to answer two questions on a piece of paper: What is important to you and why does it matter?  On the other side we were asked to write our names clearly and draw 1) our favorite pet or an animal we'd like to have as a pet and 2) something (music, sport, game) that we play.

CI Theory

After Keith's testimonial, Bob (@BobPatrick on twitter) stepped forward to provide some comprehensible input theory.  There were a few things I have already covered in my previous CI post, such as the Comprehensible Input Umbrella, the rules of the Rotary, and the cheesecake activity, but there were some topics that I only brushed on, or that were not fully developed by last year, that I am going to include below.

Language Teacher Affirmation (offered here word-for-word)

Our aim is to make the acquisition of the language we teach possible for all kinds of learners.  In order to do that:

  • We affirm that ours is a language like any other with its level of inflection.
  • We affirm that anyone who wants to acquire ability in our language can do so if offered an approach which employs principles of best practice in language acquisition.
    • A best practice is showing positive results, is reduplicable, and it can change and improve.
  • We acknowledge that most language teachers are themselves “four percenters” who enjoy questions of linguistics, grammar, and philology.
    • Although these are fascinating disciplines of their own..
    • They are not language acquisition, and they interfere with acquisition whenever and wherever they are substituted for best practices

Language teachers are not normal; for our programs to thrive we must become good at teaching normal human beings.

Principals of Comprehensible Input (also word-for-word)

  1. It is impossible to prepare students to read the great literature in 3-4 years.
    • It is possible to give them basic reading facility and an enjoyable experience of reading your language, which may encourage them to continue study, in school or on their own.
  2. Every student has a right to experience being in a second (or third or fourth) language
  3. Language teachers are not normal our language is not different
  4. Students only acquire language when they receive understandable messages in the target language.
  5. One of the quickest ways to deliver an understandable message is to give an English equivalent for a new word or phrase.
  6. Language acquisition, including the assimilation and understanding of grammar, according to the latest brain research, happens unconsciously.
  7. Direct grammar instruction does not advance acquisition.  It interferes.  It raises stress levels.  Rising stress = lowering acquisition.
  8. Error correction tends to put students on the defensive.  It focuses on the form of the language and not the message, thereby inhibiting acquisition.  Understandable messages are lost in the “endings”.
  9. Shelter vocabulary, not grammar.
    • All our texts do just the opposite
    •  Consider Tres Ursi: 52 vocabulary words, advanced grammar
    •  What to do with our texts, especially if they have good stories?
  10. Four percenters, both students and teachers, will interfere with their own language acquisition by focusing on my love for grammar, linguistics, and philology.
  11. We have an obligation to stay focused: am I delivering understandable messages in my language?
    • Delivering understandable messages will mean that WE are uncomfortable and that students are more at ease
  12. Reading another language is not translating or speed translating.
    • Reading is looking at squiggles on a page and seeing a movie in your head. Jason Fritze
    • Reading proficiency: what you are able to do, not what you know about the language.
    • Our methods have focused on knowing about and not allowed us to do much in our language
  13. True reading develops in stages.
    • Depends on acquired language
    • It does not correspond to a grammar curriculum
    • Reading is taking in understandable messages.  If the messages are not understandable, it’s not reading.
  14. i + 1
    • "i + 1" means the level of language that students fully comprehend ("i") plus a little bit that they don't ("+1").
    • where the students are, with interesting material plus a slight edge
    • Reading only advances acquisition when it is i+1
    • No textbook currently in use in the US provides those kinds of readings
    • Teachers are obligated to create and edit readings to fulfill this requirement
  15. What we teach
    • We do not teach a textbook
    • We do not teach standards
    • We do not teach AKS
    • We teach human beings
    • We teach a language
    • Textbooks are tools that may or may not be helpful
  16. Production of any kind, does not advance acquisition.
    • Production happens when the individual is ready to produce and not a moment before.
    • The individual will produce at the levels he/she is capable of and will advance at his/her own pace.
  17. CI is not Immersion
    • Immersion camps, here or abroad, in all our languages
      • Helpful and delicious in their own way, but…
      • Filled entirely with 4 percenters
      • Screened by prior knowledge of grammar
      • and not reduplicable in the classroom (with normal students)
    • Immersion camps can be stressful and rising stress = lowering acquisition
  18. CI does happen in all kinds of classrooms
    • In strict grammar-translation classrooms, moments of understandable messages happen, usually unintentionally
    • In immersion camps, understandable messages happen all the time, intentionally and unintentionally
    • How do we craft classes where we are 90% understandable and in the language?

Circling with Balls

I honestly have only dabbled in this particular activity, and really found this demonstration very, very helpful.  Remember the "Brief Interlude That Will Be Visited Upon in a Meaningful Way Later"?  Later is now.  First, though, check out this great explanation of Circling with Balls.

The papers that we decorated with our interests (mine had a wolf and a Portal Companion Cube) were brought back into play by the three seminar leaders in this activity.  It is by far the best "getting to know you" activity I have ever seen employed in a classroom and is definitely much more effective than pieces of toilet paper or M&Ms (though the latter tends to buy you at least temporary love from your students).

Each presenter took a couple of the papers, had the author identify him or herself, and began to ask questions.  The demonstration was in English, but I spent the entire time envisioning what it would look like in my classroom.  "Hello Susan.  Do you have a dog?  Yes?  Class, Susan has a dog.  Does Susan have a dog or a cat?"  And of course there are always students--even in a classroom of teachers--who draw dragons and unicorns.  They give great questioning meat (sparkly meat, in the case of the unicorn).  You can ask things like "Do you have a unicorn?  No?  Do you want a unicorn?  Do you want a blue unicorn?"  This brings the class into fantasy and that's really where you want them.  I love those students--they are perfect for setting a tone of fun and imagination.

This method gives teachers a chance to get to know students in a way that is both personal and conducive to learning.  I will be using it next year to begin my classes.

Learning French with Lauren Watson!

Learning with Lauren

I have been to more TPRS presentations and demonstrations and seminars and workshops than I can count and have presented quite a few of my own as well.  Why so many?  Because every time the method is demonstrated I get better at understanding it.  Every time.

And the rare times I can experience the method in a language that I don't already understand, I get the extra exciting opportunity of seeing the method from the point of view of the student.  I have already described my introduction to TPRS as a method here, including why I am so passionate about it and CI (hint: it has to do with real acquisition and a wish for equity--Bob's word, but also my wish--in my classroom).
Caroline est fâché.

There were a few things I noticed that were similar to past experiences, and Lauren did a fantastic job of teaching us seven primary words and several "icing words" (defined as words you don't expect students to acquire but you need for the current story) in French today.  One thing that stood out to me this time (re-emphasis: I get something new every time) that I will be contemplating over the summer is that, as a four percenter who loves grammar and rules, I was dying to see the French word "est" written on a board.  I just wanted to see this word we kept using, and find out what the secret letters (obviously they're secret, or they'd be part of the pronunciation) are in it.  It turns out that it's just like its Latin equivalent.  Which would have totally flavored my comprehension and pronunciation of the word, had I seen it first.  Since Lauren did not write the word down, I never internalized my incorrect pronunciation nor the Latin implications of the word and now understand the word when I hear it in French.
Un bébé et un oiseau enter the story.

That is something to contemplate.  I tend to write everything I say because I myself am such a visual learner.  Now I'm going to start working on discrepancy, choosing carefully between possible things to write on the board.

At the end of the day we regrouped and did a question and answer session.  The big question of the moment is how to deal with standardized assessments.  The simple answer is to teach to them, but using comprehensible input.  However, I'd love to hear your stories and advice or concerns about the same--or about anything related to the post!

Read the post for Day 2 here. For Day 3, read here.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

No Failure Classroom at Work

At this past FLAG conference, I attended Bob Patrick's workshop on the No Failure Classroom. Bob has a thriving program and is an award winning teacher of Latin. I wanted to write a post on it now because I have been slowly implementing pieces of the No Failure classroom this semester. The experience has been eye opening and something I'd fully recommend.

Bob started by asking us what was important to us and what our "elevator speech" was - that is, how we explain why we do what we do given a brief amount of time with someone who is not a foreign language teacher. Here were my responses:

The key to these things is that we, as teachers (especially foreign language teachers) need to build trust and relationships with our kids - "War is what happens when language fails." (Margeret Atwood)

Today, I'd like to write about three aspects I've already used in my classroom. I plan on doing the 4th this Friday and will write a summer post on it.

Two Most Important Questions
I did this the Monday I came back from FLAG. These two questions are now how I will begin each year. The key to this is to make sure you tell the students: 1) This is NOT anonymous; 2) I will read each and every one. Nota Bene - Also tell your students you are a mandatory reporter and what that means.

Here are the questions:
  1. What is important to you?
  2. Why does it matter?
I'm not entirely sure what I was expecting. Every kid wrote something. Some of them were short and simple and some students took an entire sheet of paper. I went home and, as I promised, read every single one. It changed the way I saw some of my kids. For others, it explained behaviours I'd wondered about. When I came back the next day, things were a little different:
  • Some students consciously worked to change habits they knew weren't productive. 
  • Many students wanted to know if I'd read all 130 papers
  • Some students approached me to talk more.
Overall, I am pleased I did this. It definitely built the amount of trust between me and my kids and our relationship has improved. 

Classroom Management - Power With
I use the Daily Engagement Assessment rules for my classroom management. Since my first day with them last year, they have done wonders for my room. These ten rules keep it clear what behaviour I require in my room and also serve to help students do their best in my room. If students are following the DEA, they will make progress. These rules, rather than simply being a list of do's and don'ts provide students the tools and power to succeed. 

A No Failure Classroom goes even further to create "Power With" situations as opposed to "Power Over" situations.

More than a few times, I've had situations that require a... gentle word with students. Bob lays out simple ways to deal with this after pulling a student outside
  • I am on your side
  • I am here for your success. Do you want to be successful?
  • Can we go back inside and do what it takes to be successful?
The key here is to not argue behaviour. At that point, it is about gaining power over someone whereas this conversation gives both parties power to do something together. More than once I  have had a conversation like this with students. Before, the conversation could take many minutes, filled with arguments, apologies, and explanations. Now, it is quick and clear. Sometimes I have to have this conversation with the same student daily. More often than not, however, the behaviour changes. 

There has been one instance in mind that I think is a perfect example of a no fail classroom. This student and I have had many conversations and struggles through the year. Having had these conversations with this student and knowing what is going on in his/her life, I have been working with the student to get work in and focus in class. The changes were startling when I changed from a traditional approach to the No Failure Classroom.

Before After
Student would miss 4 of 5 days Student misses 1 of 5 days
Student argues when asked to put away
technology or take out materials
Student initially argued, but now does it
after being asked once
Student would not participate in the Daily
Engagement Assessment and would roll
eyes frequently during class
Student participated 3 out of 5 times
Student would respond to my prompts
with an "I don't know" or "I will not" or
"I don't understand anything"
Student initially responded as before,
but after a few days of consistent help
and prompting, began to make
connections without teacher aid
Student would work, even on a basic
level with others. Student would refuse
to join groups or pairs.
Student is still reluctant to work with
others, but will do so, especially if a job
has been given to the student (like note
taker or artist or runner)
Student was rude to others, including me
on a fairly regular basis. 
Student initially responded as before,
but now is a good "classroom citizen",
helping clean up and helping others.

It was clear that the initial change caught the student by surprise. After a few days though, (s)he caught on to what I was doing and joined in. Here's an example of our progression:

Day 1 - "I know this isn't what you want to do, but I need you to do this." "Why? There's no point."

Day 3 - "I know this isn't what you want to do, but I need you to do this." "really.... okay"

Day 5 - "I know this isn't what you want to do, but I need you to do this." "ya, ya okay..."

Day 7 - "I know this isn't what you want to do..." "but you need me to... I know. I got it."

By day 7, this student was participating more, offering to help, etc. I was taken aback! With some other students the "broken record" phrase was what I discussed above about success. With that too, quick change occurred.

Having spent my semester slowly involving these techniques, I don't know how I ran my classroom before. This has changed everything about how I address students, see students, think about students, and it has changed how they see me. I definitely see more action and more excitement about things than before. What a great way to end a year!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Google 80/20 Project - Plus Deltas

I've been working on my follow-up to the Google 80/20 project that I piloted with my IIIs and IVs this year. I had typed up an intermediate post, but held off for all the reasons Rachel stated in her previous post as well as a few personal issues that got in our way (AKA an acute concussion and a broken wrist). My classes and I just finished our presentations and I'd like to do two more posts. This one, where I address some questions and discuss my observations (and whether they are a + or a δ) and conclusions and another when I discuss the kids' feedback.


  • The students really enjoyed being able to choose what they wanted to study. They all chose topics that meant a lot to them. This made the entire process more enjoyable. +
  • Many students felt that they had all the time in the world and were caught doing other work more than once. δ
  • Students chose whatever they wanted, but some failed to connect it to Latin. δ
  • Some students took seemingly odd topics and managed to use Roman culture and myth to establish a connection. This was quite unexpected and interesting. +
  • Students felt held back by previously expressed ideas (from years of schooling) and felt they HAD to do a presentation visual (PowerPoint; Prezi; etc.) δ
  • Students turned in their correspondence with their CCs, but didn't use their CC for advice or peer editing. δ
  • Students, again I suspect, from years of schooling fell into this "presentational" mode where they stood in front of the class and explained rather than discussed. δ
  • It was easy to see who was comfortable with the free discussion. Students really worked to help each other during the final "presentation" asking clarifying questions. +
  • I got a clear view of what interests students. These are things I can use next year for instruction. +
 + Conclusions
A few things are clear to me here. If (and I think I will) I do this activity again, I will keep as much freedom as possible. Students who are interested, as the latest FL research suggests, do good work. I would be hesitant to place restrictions on topics, although I feel some may be a good idea, just because the connections some of the kids made were so unexpected and good. I would hate to hinder that. I will be interested to see student responses.

I think I will want to do this earlier in the year. Some of the data  I took in about who was comfortable discussing would be useful for further instruction. I also think it may be beneficial, if done earlier in the year, to tie an assessment to it (using student questions and feedback).

 δ Conclusions
There are some things I'd definitely change. Most of these changes are based on the deltas I noticed. Once I get student surveys in, this list may be added to or change, but I definitely think I'll do these things next year. 
  1. A set timeline with due dates for rough drafts and peer editing - I hope this would combat the feeling of having endless time and help students use each other as resources.
  2. Ban presentational programs - I am, honestly, so tired of PPT and prezi. Next year I think I will just require student to have a different visual. 
  3. Require students to discuss Roman cultural perspectives, products, or practices. - I am on the fence with this one. Perhaps I would require this for younger groups. I want them to have freedom, but I want to make it useful to our class and avoid a "book report" on a topic. 
  4. I would change the set up of the classroom for this - I would put the desks in a giant circle or perhaps in small groups while I floated between them. I would hope that this would encourage more discussion. 
Student surveys are coming and will, more than likely, change some of my conclusions. I will update more once they come in. 

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Untextbooking: Of Monsters and Men

I promised to update you on my experiment in untextbooking, and this is one of at least two updates; this one will discuss an approach I've taken to material that would normally be considered too difficult for a Latin II class, and another following it this summer will be my thoughts on the semester as a whole.

I'm really sorry that I haven't been updating as often.  Miriam and I both have taken on a lot this semester--in addition to creating entirely new curricula for our classes (untextbooking and Miriam's 80/20 Google classroom approach), we both teach online part-time and are enrolled in graduate school full-time.  We've also been working on an online Latin curriculum for a local online high school.  It has been a very busy semester.  If you add to that the new house I just bought (and spent the weekend refinishing floors for), I have a lot on my plate and just haven't had time to write a blog post.

However, here is one for a unit that I and my students have really enjoyed.  It's been vocabulary-intensive, but fun, and has triple repetition built in to just the readings, so if you add to that a question and answer or storytelling approach, the unit really builds up that vocabulary that it uses.

Without further ado, here is a link to the unit itself, and I'll explain the various pieces below.

Pliny Unit Of Monsters and Men

The first things listed on the unit I linked are there for the teacher's use.  They are the original Pliny with my (quick and possibly somewhat inaccurate) literal translations.  From there, I created an embedded form that mostly focused on changing the word order into something more comprehensible to my Latin II students, but generally does not change either vocabulary or grammatical forms.  Finally, I created what I called pre-readings with lists of vocabulary and very repetitive and expanded readings based on the embedded version of the Latin.

You can scroll down the linked document to find the format of the handouts I gave my students; we began with four days of vocabulary via TPRS and follow-up readings with a lot of question and answer.  After those four days, we read all of the four pre-readings as a unit and I assigned students the following:

The goal was some great synthesis of the information and a chance to play with Pliny's format and his means of authenticating his materials.

I had some wonderful student work as the result of the assignment.  I'd love to post it all here, but here are some examples:
Homines Cani--The gray-headed, gray-eyed people from Albania.
Homines Pedibus Aversis--Super fast men with backwards feet.

Anthropophagi--Cannibals who drink from human skulls.
One of the most beautifully illustrated
original races students created.
All of the Plinian races plus the original race on one page.
Following this I posted some of the student work on the board and asked questions that highlighted the upcoming vocabulary and a grammatical form I was slightly concerned about.  Then we read the embedded version of the section, and followed that with the original Pliny.  Again, repetition and question and answer were very important in this section.  

Lastly, because we had approximately two state-testing-free days left before I needed to do my last test before finals (so much testing at the end of the year--I am timing that test around state tests and AP tests), I added Pliny's description of a unicorn (with elephant feet!) and followed pretty much the same process.

The test will include general comprehension questions for the sections of Pliny, as well as some recognition questions including the grammar (contextual understanding of the vocabulary).

This has been a really fun unit for myself and my students.  We analyzed why the Romans could believe in such things, what kind of sources Pliny might have been referencing, the motivations for various parts of the descriptions, and the background of Pliny himself.  I got to teach material that inspires me.  It has been a really great experience, and I found a new way to present material to help it make sense to my students.