Friday, February 3, 2017

Task-based White Elephant

"Communicative Tasks" is one of those life-changing (or at least curriculum-changing) ideas: since listening to Tea with BVP and attending ACTFL a few months ago, I have been trying to figure out how to create comprehensible, compelling lessons with a purpose for my own classes. I've been working on the first two since I started teaching, but, aside from "to learn Latin," purpose has usually been missing from my curriculum.

But Miriam and I have been doing a book study lately using James F. Lee's Tasks and Communicating in Language Classrooms (hereafter TCLC), which is a textbook on using tasks to build your curriculum. And we read chapter 3. And went over our book study time limit by ten minutes--while trying to rush because we realized we had run out of time.

This chapter clarified the entire concept of tasks and purpose for me. I read it late the night before we recorded and got so excited about what I was reading that I scribbled notes all along the margin and then, after trying to go to sleep, wrote in the dark (after finding my handy-dandy pen and notepad by feel--everyone keeps those by their beds for midnight inspiration, right?) about the next day's assignment and about a much longer-term task-based and game-based unit that my students are almost exactly in the middle of right now (I'll write about it later). Then I still couldn't sleep, so I moved rooms and read about Alexander Hamilton for a couple of hours. And I still woke up functional and excited, because that's how I react to bringing something (relatively) new to my classes.

I have shifted paradigms. It feels like I was looking at a fuzzy picture and then suddenly it auto-focused (digital technology is cool) and everything made sense.

I have to change everything I do. I have to. It's the only way I can be sure I'm not wasting my students' time.

That sounds like a dramatic statement, but it's not as dramatic as it seems. I have spent almost fourteen years exploring the best ways to deliver comprehensible and compelling information to my students, supported in large by the research of Steven Krashen, and I firmly believe in the power of Comprehensible Input to make Latin enjoyable and accessible to my students--it's key to creating the kind of inclusive and low-stress environment I seek in my classroom. CI, at this point, is an assumed foundation of my approach to teaching language.

Tasks just add the blueprint. For example, the activity I had planned the next day was a take on "White Elephant" or "Dirty Santa" by Justin Slocum-Bailey. In short, students would choose stuffed animals, and other students could choose to claim a new stuffed animal or to steal another student's animal. Miriam and I thought this would be a nice way to ease back into using Latin the first couple of days after winter break.

Can I just say, as an aside, that I have been completely spoiled by my current teaching team? I teach with some of the best Latin teachers in the country and we get to meet and plan on a daily basis. I am super grateful.

After reading Chapter 3 of TCLC, I created this worksheet to go along with the White Elephant activity and designed a purpose for the stuffed animals--groups would be claiming an animal that they would then use the next day in a motivational poster. With this in mind, I asked students in groups to classify animals according to which adjectives they felt could describe them. This was followed by a whole-class discussion, and then, in groups, the students were asked to decide which animals they wanted most and why.

Only after all of that did I start the White Elephant game and, with the next day's project in mind, groups were extremely engaged. The important thing was getting and keeping the stuffed animal they had chosen, not just practicing and playing with the language. Latin became a means instead of an end.

The next day they created motivational posters (the instructions are here; we brainstormed about the two new vocabulary words first and then they created posters).

I am excited. I feel empowered. And very motivated :)

Our Latin-inspired senses of humor tend to be morbid.