Scaffolding for Input and Output–Reading a Class Novel

I am outlining here a process that has organically evolved in recent work with Latin 3 classes.  It began with an assignment that I left with students to do while I was away training for two days in Universal Design for Learning. What evolved on my return is, in my estimation, what I hope is the first of many interplays of Comprehensible Input and UDL.

My original goal: Students will demonstration comprehension of Capitulum 4 of Perseus et Rex Malus which we are reading as a class.

Longer term goal: Students will be able to participate in a conversation in Latin about the events in Cap. 4 or 5 in the book.

I left them with a four frame cartoon block in which they were to draw the events of Cap 4.  They were to choose two sentences from the chapter in Latin to serve as caption for each picture (so, 8 sentences total).

On my first day back, I invited students to tell me what barriers they ran into while working on the assignment I left.  Here is the list of barriers they encountered:

  1. vocabulary that they did not recognize
  2. confusion over using the dictionary at the back of the book
  3. Would liked to have done more or fewer drawings than the required 4 based on the movement of chapter 4
  4. Would liked to have had freedom to use more than two sentences for captions or to have written their own captions in Latin rather than be constrained by what was in the chapter.

Over the next three days we looked at each page of cap. 4, listed words that were problematic, looked them up together in the back of the book (noticed various inflections given there and some omissions of words), and re-read pages with new insight in hand.  Each of those three days, as the last act of the class, I asked students to consider how ready they were to hold a conversation in Latin about Cap. 4. They were to respond on the back of their cartoon sheets (which I took up each day after they added new vocab and context notes each day) with a number indicating personal sense of readiness to hold conversation in Latin about the chapter.

Next goal: students will write a Latin summary of Capitulum 4 in their composition notebook with no specific time limit other than the length of the class period.

After I felt that we had really read and understood Cap. 4 well, I asked them to begin class by re-reading Cap 4, and then using the remainder of the period “to write about all that goes on in Cap 4 in your best Latin.” I told them that whether they did that in 10 minutes or 30 minutes, their only limit was the bell ringing at the end. I had long felt that timing such writing activities created for some students enough anxiety to become a barrier to their success.  So, this was an attempt to remove that barrier.  Indeed, some completed the task in 10 minutes and others took longer.

Then, there was the HUGE little surprise that became an excellent learning/teaching moment that has changed forever part of my teaching process. In one class, I asked students to re-read and then write, and a small rebellion arose.  “Aren’t we going to read this chapter first?”  I reminded the student that we had just spent two class periods reading, clarifying vocabulary, etc.  “But I wasn’t reading the pages.  I was just scanning for words I didn’t know.  I really don’t know what’s going on in this chapter!”

What is the difference in scanning for unknown words and reading something for understanding?  That has become the guiding question that I simply took for granted.  On that day, in the moment, I allowed that anyone who felt they still needed to read for understanding could get the books out and re-read again, and then do their writing.  Others who felt that they understood the chapter could begin their writing immediately.  Otherwise, they all had the remainder of the class time to do the writing.  About 12 students (out of 30) chose to get the books and read again for understanding.  Within 5 minutes, they had all returned the books and began their writing.  Everyone finished their writing by the time the period ended.

Since then, I have been using the following kind of scaffolding that is grounded in comprehensible input (establishing meaning, listening to understandable messages, reading understandable and compelling story) supporting new opportunities for speaking and writing in Latin (output). In short order, the scaffolding looks like this:

1. Create some sort of note-taking sheet as a processing tool. (Do not mistake this for explicit teaching or a worksheet or a study guide or a review list–it is simply about processing).  I like to give them a one page sheet with a square for each page in the reading in which they can note new words and other items that may be interesting or helpful to them. I create this by inserting a table on a page that is 2 x 2 and as large as they page will hold (so 4 squares on a page).

2. Ask students to scan the first page for unknown words.  This does not take long.  They then call out these words which I write on the board and then begin to give them hooks for thew new words–connections to forms of this word they already know, antonyms, snynonyms, English cognates or derivatives, and simply the English meaning.  This is establishing meaning.

3. Ask students to read that page for understanding. After they are done, ask where they need help understanding.  Field those questions and offer help or see if another student want so to be the teacher for that question.  This is a mini example of where students can be the co-teacher. Ask them if they are “seeing the movie” in their heads as they read.  I don’t think we can do too much to help students really experience reading in a second language.  Too many of us Latin teachers never had that experience until we sought it on our own.  We became excellent speed translators and thought that was reading.  We can be the teacher who helps our students experience reading in Latin.

4. Ask students to write in the box on their paper a short English summary of what’s happening on that page. This is something that those who practice Story Listening do after they have listened to (input) and watched the drawing of a story.  They simply write the story in their L1 to demonstrate comprehension.  This helps confirm in the mind and confidence of the student that they have actually read and understood something.

5. As the reading of a chapter or story progresses, begin to ask students to rank their ability to write or to hold a conversation in Latin about the story/chapter.  Use the scale above or one of your own making.  Keep it simple.

6. Give them an open ended period of time to write about a story, a chapter, part of a chapter or a collection of chapters.  It’s not so much what they write about as that they feel prepared to write about what they understand.  I am also moving toward doing this more often than less often.

7. As a part of each day, for several days, form a circle of students who have indicated that they are ready to hold a conversation about a story/chapter, etc.  I do this in groups of 8-10 (I have classes of 30-32).  We sit in a circle in the middle of the room.  Everyone in the room re-reads the intended material, and then I conduct a conversation about the reading with questions and sometimes PQA kinds of material.  Students in the circle participate while those outside the circle listen.  For those in the circle, this is output.  For those outside the circle it is more input.

8. Give a small quarter sheet of paper to students outside the circle to take notes on just one of the students in the circle–what they say in Latin and how they participate in the circle.  I also ask one student to takes notes on me and how I conduct the conversation.  Their observations are very helpful. All of this creates a kind of Socratic circle process, and gives me good notes on the experience.  I give those in the circle a speaking assessment based on those student observations notes and my own observations.

9. Continue to hold a circle each day with a new group of students making sure that the “least prepared” are the last to do so.  By then, they have 2 or 3 experiences of additional input.

This sort of scaffolding of input and output begins to form layers especially with a class novel such that you are always doing some pieces at the same time (e.g. establishing meaning of words on newest pages while holding conversation circles on older pages and re-reading more recent pages for understanding).

Just before a second day of circle conversation, I asked a class to re-read a chapter.  At the end, one of my more challenging students became extraordinarily excited.  He jumped up and down saying–I did it!  I read the WHOLE thing and I understood it.  I mean, man, like I understood it like it do English when I read it.”

That’s what this is about.

Bob Patrick

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