Listening to a Story

I have been using Listening to a Story in my CI classes over the last two years as have my colleagues.  Today, I made use of it in a different way with upper level students and as a result, I learned something for my own practice of it.  I have learned to do what I do by reading and viewing Beniko Mason’s website.  She posts there videos and other materials of her Great Story Reading Project.  If you do nothing else as a result of this post, at least go and learn from her!  I will offer the disclaimer that I do not pretend to represent her or her skillful insight–only what I am learning and trying to practice.

So, the short of it for me is this.

  1. I choose a story that I want my students ultimately to be able to read (so this is backwards design).
  2. I sit down with the story and attempt to draw with paper and pencil a mural like drawing that represents everything in the story–almost to a word.
  3. As a result of that process, I identify 5-6 (could be fewer, might be more, but caveat magister/tra!) words that I KNOW my students will need, and I jot them down on the edge of my drawing.
  4. When I am ready to deliver this story, I make sure I have most of my white board clear, and to one end, I write the need to know words and their English equivalents.
  5. I tell/read the story the first time while drawing the story on the board and pausing and pointing to new words when they appear in the story.  This, by design, goes very slowly.
  6. I tell/read the story the second time with the drawing on the board, pointing to images and new words.
  7. I then hand out copies of the story, and we read the story together.  I pause and allow them to ask “quid significat” questions about anything that is unknown.
  8. I ask them to read the story to themselves silently.
  9. I ask them to turn the reading over and in English, summarize all that they know about the story.
  10. They can keep those, or I can take them up for an assessment.

I’ve been doing this with my Latin 5 students (9 girls) with Latin fables whose themes they chose from Laura Gibbs’ wonderful collection Mille Fabulae et Una.

Recently, I asked them each to pick a single fable out of the collection of fables that had mulieres as characters (one of their top themes).  For their midterm, I assigned them to prepare to deliver that story to the rest of us using the Story Listening approach.  The rubric requires them to:
A. tell the story while drawing (30 points)
B. tell the story again  (30 points)
C. Give a copy to the class and re-read, fielding questions about meaning (20 points)
D. Lead a discussion in Latin about the “septem inchoamenta fabulae” which I developed from Kendall Havens’ Story Proof. (20 points)

We are almost done with the 9 presentations, but today something happened that really opened my eyes to how this practice can be improved, and how I can improve my own practice of it..

The young woman was delivering the fable “Rhodopis et Aquila.”  It was immediately clear that she had spent some time developing the mural-like images that she would use to tell the story.  What nearly knocked me out of my chair in the back of the room was the silence.  Because she took great care in her drawing, she also created longer spaces of silence than when I delivered a story like this.  It dawned on me that as the teacher in the room, I felt compelled to be constantly talking and making Latin words sound through the room.  As I watched this unfold, I realized a truth that Havens makes in his book.  Humans have been telling story for longer than we have had language.

The images began to tell the story in the silence.  Then, this young woman began, slowly, to add the words in meaningful chunks, pointing to the images, pausing and pointing to the new words, repeating meaningful chunks, and so forth, until the entire mural was on the board and the entire story had been told.  I now have a revision of my own “steps” for delivering a story like this.  Given all the prep mentioned before:

  1. I tell/read the story the first time while drawing the story on the board–allowing for spaces of silence while I draw–no rush to fill in words–and pausing and pointing to new words when they appear in the story.
  2. I tell/read the story the second time with the drawing on the board, pointing to images and new words–again, with no rush.
  3. I then hand out copies of the story, and we read the story together.  I pause and allow them to ask “quid significat” questions about anything that is unknown.
  4. I ask them to read the story to themselves silently.
  5. I ask them to turn the reading over and in English, summarize all that they know about the story.
  6. They can keep those, or I can take them up for an assessment.

Doctor a discipula doctus est!

Bob Patrick

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Pingite Picturam iam Pictam (Draw the Drawn Drawing)

I’ve created a new activity–I think.  If this is already out there, then I defer to it and whatever it is called.  In Latin I’m calling it PPP, but for other teachers maybe DDD or something else in your language.

This activity requires a little advanced set up.  Needed:

  • Class divided into groups of 6
  • One small whiteboard, markers and rag per group.
  • Three class artists identified at the beginning of class to create the original pictures.  I did this simply by saying:  I need three people who like to draw to take those three seats at the back.  They self identified, and I got real variety among them through the day.
  • A set of vocabulary to base the pictures on.  I had about 15 words, nouns and verbs mostly, that we have been using recently.

Process: Identify three “artists” (students willing to draw a picture), and give them a whiteboard and marker.  Show them the working vocab list and ask them to draw a picture on the whiteboard that is inspired by some of these words.  Tell them that they have no more than 10 minutes to complete the drawing, and more importantly, they cannot let anyone see their drawing.  They cannot even let each other see the other’s drawings. While they are drawing, engage the class in another activity that will take 10 minutes.

So, the activity begins when you have their three drawings in your safe-keeping. The class is sitting in groups of 6.  Using a social-emotional question, identify one student from each group, e.g.

  • Whose birthday is the closest to today?
  • Who put on lotion most recently?
  • Who most recently lifted weights?
  • Who has the most siblings?
  • Who  saw a scary movie last?

The identified student now gets the whiteboard, markers and rags for the group.  They sit in the middle of their group facing the teacher with the rest of their group huddled around them.

The teacher now selects one of the three completed pictures and holds it so that only the teacher can see it. The student who drew the picture being used is asked to sit out of this round, and will be the judge of who does the best job.  The other two artists can join one of the groups as participant.

The teacher begins, in L2, to describe the drawing that he/she is holding.  The identified student in each group begins to draw what they hear. The group huddled around helps the artist by listening for details that the artist may miss.  The teacher should describe the picture completely 3 times with the first round being very slow and careful. With each round of telling, you can raise the level of the complexity of the language.  For example, the first time, you may say in L2: In the picture there is a family.  There are three trees.  The trees are near the river. The second time you may say: in the picture The family is able to see three trees, and the trees are near a river.  The third time you might say: in the field near the river, three trees are seen by the family.  In oral rather than written terms, you are given them embedded versions of the complete scene each time.

At the end of the third description, the individual creations are brought to the front and placed on the whiteboard rail.  The teacher reveals the original, and the artist of that picture decides whose is the closest to the original. I like to have stickers for the winning teams to receive. 

Repeat twice more with the remaining pictures.  With each new round, have the person who just drew the picture for the group choose the next artist for their group. I’ve included quick photos of most of those produced by these classes.  The original drawing from which I was giving the description is usually in the middle and in color.  

Like anything, as we use this activity which creates more repetitions of vocabulary, focuses on listening and invites creativity, we will find variations that we prefer.  When that happens, please share them on Latin Best Practices on Facebook.

Bob Patrick

What Can Happen When CI Teachers and Traditional Teachers Collaborate

This is a true story.  I teach in one of the nation’s largest and arguably best public school systems.  Our system demands the best from us all the time (which can be exhausting).  In one of those ever arriving demands, we Foreign Language Teachers were told that we needed to work on a five year plan that included updating district standards, creating common semester exam assessments and performance exams, lesson plans and curriculum calendars.  All of these, at this writing, are considered resources and are not required to be used.  The largest concern for their creation was that new FL teachers have immediate access to what they need to get started: standards, lesson plans, a calendar, and assessments. There was a call for volunteers in each language to joint this 5 year effort.

I’ve learned over the years that when there is going to be change like this, from the top down, and there is an invitation to participate, those who show up make the rules. I volunteered as did 7 other Latin teachers from our district.  I think that they would all agree with me that we came as a mix of approaches.  Some of us were CI teachers.  Some of us were traditional grammar-translation teachers. Some of us were “Cambridge reading approach” teachers, and some were a mix of all of the above.  Out of the 8 of us, 5 of us remain in what is now year 3 of the effort. I want to tell the story of what happened in our work that has made this one of the most positive and most hopeful, to me, of such collaborative efforts.  I also hope that it may provide some fodder for others around the world to consider for their own collaborative efforts.

I don’t mind owning that I went into our first meeting concerned that with such varying approaches, this could immediately become a committee of political fights (power struggles) over whose way prevailed. While I am committed to the CI approach, I know that there’s no such thing as arguing others into one’s approach–from any angle.  We humans just don’t work that way, and that is not collaboration.

Here’s what happened in the first meeting.  We agreed that our one, single, common goal was that our students be able to read some Latin.  In fact, I think you can extrapolate this as a truth for all Latin teachers and the follow up.  After that one, common goal, we do not agree on much.  We all agreed that none of us wanted our approaches, our programs (which means our students), or our materials thrown under the proverbial bus because of what our committee did.  So, we agreed on some guiding principles.

1. We would focus entirely on reading comprehension of Latin that was appropriate to each level–which nails our one, common goal.

2. We would spend time using a word frequency list and our own common sense and teaching experience to create a common vocabulary list for each level of work. (I will say more about frequency lists below).  Over that process we decided on 150 words per level.  We stipulated that teachers were free to teach more than that, but that all the materials we created would be bound by that list or have glossed words.  On that note, we also bound ourselves to never have more than 5 glossed words in a story.

3. Upon the completion of the list of 150 high frequency words for a level, we then decided which were for the fall and which for the spring.  We then worked in pairs (usually) to write stories using that vocabulary for semester exam assessments.  The stories were all set in historical Rome (broad terms) and with accurate cultural and historical settings.  We agreed that we could use any grammar necessary to tell a good story as long as what we wrote was comprehensible based on vocabulary.  E.g. using a gerundive purpose expression in a Latin 1 story was not a problem if the gerundive phrase made use of known vocabulary words.

4. Each semester exam had 4-6 such stories. After proof reading and editing each other’s stories, we wrote multiple choice questions for each story.  The questions and answers were all in English.  We made this decision for psychometric considerations.  If we wrote questions and answers in Latin, how would we know that a missed question was because they did not understand the story, or because they did not understand the question.  All of our questions were focused on comprehension of the story and they included basic and a few more complex depth of knowledge questions. There were no discreet grammar, culture or history questions even though, as I have explained, each story was full of good grammar usage and set in accurate cultural and historical contexts. The goal was an exam that would allow all students to demonstrate progress in Latin.

5. When exams were written this way for fall and spring semester for a given level, we prepared a teacher guideline packet with the vocabulary list and a summary of the kinds of grammar that one would encounter in the stories.  EVERYTHING that we wrote in those guidelines were descriptive, never prescriptive.  Our aim has always been to set teachers free to teach what and how they thought best while having some common standards, vocabulary and assessment materials.

At this writing, we have completed the above for levels 1-3.  This fall, we will gather again to continue work on level 4, and we will then need to turn our attention to writing sample lesson plans for all four levels as well as a curriculum “guide.”  That last piece may be the trickiest for us.  We have rejected the idea of a curriculum calendar which tells teachers what they should be doing at each week through the year.  Not only is this bad practice for language acquisition, it would turn our collaborative process into something other than full support for all of our teachers and students.  We are toying with the idea of a sort of curriculum map (think giant mind map) with suggestions for delivering new vocabulary, but now I am reaching too far into the future.

Let me say a word about word frequency lists.  In the world of Latin we have several, and in my estimation, they are all useful.  The key issue is to know what each list was built from–that is to say, from which authors were these frequency lists composed.  We discussed several possibilities, but since in our number we had teachers who wanted to use medieval, late, golden and early classical period Latin as well as occasional neo-Latin, we chose to use Mark Williams” Essential Latin Vocabulary: The 1425 Most Common Words Occurring in the Actual Writings of over 200 Latin Authors. As various people have noted, there are some editing problems in this book, but that did not hinder us from using it well.  We chose it for the wide base of authors it covers.  Our process went like this.

A. We took the first word in the list and asked if it were appropriate for Latin 1.
B. If we had consensus, we added it to the list.
C. We organized our list by part of speech so that we could make some decisions based on that as well.  We determined early that since Latin is so verb-dependent, we could afford to have more verbs than other parts if necessary.
D. If there was dissent about a word, we stopped and discussed pros and cons until we had consensus about adding it or not adding it.
E. There were times when we decided that we just needed a word or words because of what we did in our classrooms with spoken Latin regardless of where it showed up on frequency lists.
F. We agreed, of course, that it would be assumed that all the vocabulary in Latin 1 belonged in Latin 2 + it’s own list of 150, and so forth.
G. It became painfully clear at times that a word chosen by the Cambridge Latin Course –our district text (often for apparent cognate value) was not the best word or at times even an accurate words.  E.g. consumere for eating.  We went with comedere instead for classroom discussions of eating.
H. Sometimes, words that were high on the frequency list don’t show up in CLC until later units. At times we made concessions to the CLC teachers and at times we followed the frequency list which means that CLC teachers will have a word to teach before it shows up in their stories.  We tried to do this in an even handed manner.

We now have three lists of 150-ish words each with the most frequent words appearing in Latin 1 and so forth.  I am sharing those lists now (which many have asked for) since they have now been rolled out to our district teachers.  I am sharing them as examples.  I do not contend that they are perfect, or that they should become someone’s curriculum, or that they represent anything except what they are: the produce of our district teachers’ collaborative efforts. No doubt, over time, as we work with these lists and resources, we will learn things that require more editing.  That is the nature of teaching and learning–it’s always an ongoing process.

Here are the three current lists:

Latin 1 common vocabulary

Latin 2 common vocabulary

Latin 3 common vocabulary

This whole process has made me look forward to each gathering of the committee.  I actually have fun spending 8 hours with this group of people (whoever said that about committee work?) focusing our work on reading comprehension and writing stories with them.  I hope that telling this story–so far as it has gone–can inspire other collaborative efforts among Latin teachers.  As I often say, I think that our language tradition is in a most fragile position these days.  We don’t have time to bicker with one another.  We have to find ways forward together to increase both interest in Latin and demonstrate student success (which in turn generates more interest).  This is the story of one way.

Bob Patrick

Close Reading in a CI Classroom

This is a sort of “report from the field” but it is definitely something I will be repeating and thought worth sharing.

For the last nearly 3 weeks (yes, ’cause we started school on August 6 with students), I’ve been working very hard as a CI teacher.  I have three sections of Latin 3 Honors (33 bodies in each class).  The hard work has been the core of what we do in CI: various activities and processes to help them acquire needed vocabulary and structures for things we want them to read well, in Latin.  Each class is also made up of students taught by 4 different teachers over the years, so there is also the need to do some serious community building.

I’ve been working hard.

Yesterday, we read most of a story that I wrote using the vocabulary and structures that I want them to know. The story is about a man named Quintus who lives in a large, country mansion, alone now after the death of his parents, his sister in childbirth, his evil brother fled after killing a man, and his other brother serving in the military.  Quintus is afraid of a lot of things, never leaves the house, and gets a surprising message one day about a hidden treasure. It gave me plenty of opportunities to talk about Roman wealth, estates, inheritance, marriages, infant mortality, military service, etc.  Let’s be clear.  This was targeted vocabulary and one targeted structure: clauses after verbs of fearing.  I won’t go through all the things we did, but suffice it to say that through various CI activities we built vocabulary around a set of adjectives that can describe physical as well as personality traits (e.g. certus, clarus, gravis, sinster, et al) and expressions of fear that something might happen.

Today, I gave them each a hard copy of the 645 word story, and sent them out into our courtyard in groups of 3 (courtyard?  Yes, finally here in Atlanta we have morning weather in the upper 60’s and low 70’s!).  Their task was to make a list in response to this:  Quid de Quinto scimus?  I gave them a response sheet with these instructions:

Quid de Quinto scimus?  In the spaces below, list all the things we know about Quintus from the story.  This includes what we know about Quintus himself, what he fears, and what we know about his family or his house and property.  If it relates to Quintus, list it.  You may list in Latin only or English with Latin evidence.” (I did tell them that they would receive no credit for English only answers, and from what I can tell so far almost everyone is writing only in Latin).

I told them that I would be assessing this standard in my grade book: “Reads Latin for detail and specified knowledge.”  I also told them that I had already done what they were about to do, and that I found 49 different things about Quintus, and so I was inclined to think of their work in these terms for the sake of assessment: less than 30 would = C-F; 30 = B-; 35 = B+; 40 = A- and 45+ = A+.  They formed their groups and went out to the courtyard.  I walked around and answered occasional questions.

It went beautifully, and I say so for several reasons:

  1. They were intense and intently focused the entire class period, working with each other, reading the Latin text and writing their answers.
  2. They asked me really informed questions about the text and which made it crystal clear that they were reading and understanding the Latin.
  3. They did not finish and asked for more time–which I gladly granted for the morrow.
  4. A few told me that they did not feel like they were doing this work correctly.  In each instance, I checked, and they were doing it perfectly.

That last issue led me to ponder a bit.  My conclusion is that they felt like they were “doing it wrong” because this was not a worksheet.  This was close reading of a Latin text for detail and specific knowledge, and I set it up as a communicative task.  While one of my classes was in the courtyard, a much loved and respected colleague from the Language Arts department came along.  She wanted to know what we were doing.  I explained.  She said: “oh, characterization, analysis of a character, close reading of a text. I taught these babies to do this in English, but you have them doing it in Latin!”

Yes.  And it felt really, really good. Today, walking around and interacting with students over this close reading felt so good to me as a teacher. What I know for sure is that this moment happened only because of the 2.5 weeks of hard work, acquiring the language we needed for them to read this story.  When we got back to the room, I told my students that what we had just done was often referred to at university level courses in Latin as “a close reading of the text.”  I want them to know that what they just did was important (and a life skill!), and that they are doing it well.  That they did it well should be more clear to them when they get their papers back marked with a grade, but from what I’ve seen already, they will virtually all be very good.

Bob Patrick

Create community in the classroom–and no, you don’t have to be friends

I am teaching 3 sections of Latin 3 this year.  As they have begun assembling with me this week, the first week back at school, the realities of our very large Latin program become quickly apparent–some really positive, and some just really real.

  • As we have been experiencing, our Latin program looks like the face of the school, i.e. the wonderful multi-cultural mix that is our school is also our Latin program.  No one is excluded.  All kinds of learners are not only welcome, but they are successful.  Last year, out of 700 students in the program, we had 0 failures, and no one is unhappy with that.
  • The variety of places that students are coming from (think adverse childhood experiences) is wider than ever, and because average class sizes are 33 right now, denser.
  • The differentiation in Latin ability in each class fluctuates all the time.
  • And while this last observation may not seem like much, it inserts itself especially at this time of the year.  There was once a time when Latin students could expect to have the same teacher all the way through 4 years of study.  These days our Latin students and teachers really grow to like each other, and so as I look out on my Latin 3 classes, some of them have had me before, some have had Keith Toda before, some have had Rachel Ash before, some have had John Foulk before, some have had Miriam Patrick before, and some of them have had a mix of us before. They have varying feelings about not having “their teacher” this year.  The room, the space we share together is in need of some work so that we can work well together.

I’ve been moved, challenged and inspired by reading Christopher Emdin’s book For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood And the Rest of Ya’ll Too: Reality Pedagogy and Urban Education. Emdin is associate professor in the department of Mathematics, Science and Technology at Teacher’s College, Columbia University.

I have tried something during these first days of school inspired by his work, and I will admit that I have a long way to go in implementing his practices–but that’s my aim.  I’ll write more specifically about that in another post.

Here’s what I’ve done and why.  It was clear to me after just the first day of school that while these were largely juniors who have matured a lot since I taught many of them as freshmen, the energy in the room felt jagged and disparate.  That’s hard to explain, but the best way is to say that it did not feel like a community–not like it did back when I was the only teacher they had.  In that case, by year 3 we all had already learned how to trust and work with each other.

So, on the second day, after I called the roll, I had instructions on the board: Considite vos in ordine alphabeti, a parte dextra ad sinistram.  Once I verified that they all understood, I pulled out my phone, hit the timer and yelled Incipite!

It took the first class 2:23 (minutes:seconds).  It took the second class 4:04.  It took the third class 3:47.  I conducted the next 10 minutes in English.  I asked them to explain why it took them that long to get themselves in alphabetical order.  The answers that came forth?  They did not know each others names–especially last names.  They were waiting on someone to tell them what to do.  They didn’t know that alphabetical meant by last name. They felt shy and unwilling to step up or speak out.

I told them that I had done this because I wanted us to begin to form a community. I defined community as a group of people sharing space together in a way that is good for everyone–and that we would be sharing the space of my room every day, 5 days a week, for 52 minutes.  I observed that they did not need to be friends to form community and that community was not an accident.  Community making requires effort.  I then asked them, in Latin, to find out from those sitting around them, their full names.

On the second day, I repeated with slightly different directions.  They still had to order themselves alphabetically, but from left to right and from the back to the front. The first class took 0:56; the second 0:57 and the third 1:05.  All of them were significantly faster.  I asked them to explain that to me.  They said, in short, that they remembered from yesterday who they were sitting next to, and they learned from yesterday that if they asked people their names and told people their names it worked out much faster.

Here is what I want to drive home for all of us:  acts of community building are as easy to begin as asking and giving a name. An act of community building is easier the second time because of the first time.  And this: acts of community destruction only create more destruction.  Our world is much too full these days of community destruction. We are forgetting how to build community. I want generations of young people growing up behind me to know how to create community.

I have felt, in just two days, the atmosphere in the room change–pretty dramatically. It’s beginning to feel like a little community.

Bob Patrick

I’m New to CI: How Do I Get Started?

You’ve been to a workshop somewhere recently or had conversation with teacher friends.  You’ve done some reading and you are convinced that you want to either begin using Comprehensible Input as your philosophical framework for teaching Latin (or another second language) or you want to up your game in that regard.

“Where do I start?” I am often asked.

What to do

There are just a few things that you need to do.  Really.  Choose just a few strategies (activities, communicative tasks) that you will commit to doing over and over again this year.  I recommend that you find 2-3 blogs that you can follow–blogs of CI teachers who are talking about how they do these activities and tasks–and let them guide you to the few you will do over and over again this year.  If you are a Latin teacher, those blogs don’t have to be written by Latin teachers, but there are some good blogs that Latin CI teachers write which will help you zero in on a few CI strategies that you will do over and over again.  Check out the items in this blog, for example!  Check out Keith Toda’s blog, or Pomegranate Beginnings written by Miriam Patrick and Rachel Ash. Check out Dan Stoa’s Comprehensible Antiquity, Lance Piantaggini’s Magister P, or John Piazza’s site full of resources.  This is NOT an exhaustive list, but a way to help you get started.  Identify a few CI strategies that you will commit to using this year, and just keep doing them, strategies like: One Word Images, Movie Talks, Dictation, Read and Draw, Read, Draw and Discuss, Story Listening, CI Games like the Word Chunk Game or the Sex Game (Sex = Six in Latin so just stop it!), or Vinco; learn how to embed readings or create Communicative tasks.  Decide which strategies you will learn to do, and do them.  Do them again.  Keep doing them.  Do them with your textbook material, or with novellas or with other materials that you choose to use (or steal from others).

What to remember

Doing this work the first time (for the first year) won’t feel right.  It will feel awkward.  It will make you feel like you look incompetent. I can tell you that it is the right kind of work.  You are not awkward, and it doesn’t look incompetent.

It’s the right kind of work because it works for all kinds of learners.  It works the same way that learning your first language did only now you have some advantages of being able to think about what you are doing (so do your students) that you didn’t have as a baby.  Your brain and your students’ brains are hardwired to learn language this way, so trust that.  Teaching language this way removes language learning (and especially Latin learning) from the “elites only need apply” list.

You are not awkward–even when you feel like it.  You are not incompetent even when you feel like it.  What’s at play here is what you will need to do to teach in this framework and how that contradicts all of your inner images of what a Latin/language teacher looks like.  For example, your inner Latin teacher looks like someone declining a first declension noun on the board and explaining what cases are.  The CI Latin teacher asks students to draw pictures of what they like to play and a pet they have or would like to have.  The CI Latin teacher then begins to talk about student drawings with words like clavicordium, pedifolis, canis, feles and piscis–non of which are in the first declension.  The tension that goes on between watching students see and hear you talk about their pets and what they like to play in Latin and that inner Latin teacher who knows that they don’t know (yet) the different declensions and case usages can become intense at times.  The tension between what you are doing and your inner image of what you should be doing can make you feel awkward and incompetent.

You are neither.  You are helping students begin to acquire a second language, one that you love, and in a way that resonates with their brains.  Take your awkward, incompetent feeling self home each day and allow for a little interior applause for what you are doing.  Because, it works.

Let it be different

You are very likely going to hit a wall at some point.  By that I mean, you will come to a day when you feel like you just cannot do it anymore.  You are exhausted, or confused, or scared, or (fill in your own showstopper feelings).  That’s when you reach for something else.  The something else is NOT what you used to do.  That will only make you feel better, momentarily, and it will confuse your students.  Instead, reach for a CI strategy or activity or communicative task that will give you a little break.  Miriam Patrick has written about that at Pomegranate Beginnings called Monday Tips and Tricks.  So, you do one of those things to give yourself a break.  Maybe you do some of those things for a week to really give yourself a break.  In the meantime, you will find that your creative juices start to flow and you are ready to continue teaching with a CI framework using those very same few strategies, activities or communicative tasks that you committed to use over and over again.  Along the way of this year, don’t hesitate to reach out to other CI teachers for support and to share stories.  There are Facebook pages that support CI teachers:  Latin Best Practices, CI Lift Off, and others that you might want to check out if you don’t know them already. As one of the moderators for Latin Best Practices, I can tell you that if you share that you are struggling with something, you will be supported and get lots of helpful feedback.  Do that for yourself.  Allow yourself to be a learner even while remaining the Latin expert in the room.

You will arrive at the end of the year with a whole new perspective than you could have imagined when you started.  The only new agenda for the next year is to add just one or two additional CI strategies, activities or communicative tasks to what you have just spend a year doing, and when you do all those things again, you will have personal insight into how to make them better.

Bob Patrick

Comprehensible Input In Latin Classrooms: Is it Silly or Serious?

Several times in my life I have been told that I am too serious.  I know a few (okay, a LOT) of other Latin teachers (okay and other language teachers) who fit that charge as well.  It’s easy to be serious when you are a Latin teacher.  Our textbooks are all some version of a grammar, and grammar is always serious business.  When we chose to study Latin, we had to endure any number of inquiries (which felt like inquisitions) about WHY we chose Latin and what in the world we were “going to do with that!” The questions alone have the power to turn us deadly serious as we try to defend our choices to those who don’t appreciate them.  And then, there are the classics programs we have gone through.  While we all have found wonderful friends and mentors in and through our programs, the programs themselves don’t pretend to be anything but . . . serious. Add to that the reality that Latin faces the real possibility of disappearing from the educational and intellectual landscape in the not too distant future, and it’s enough to turn and keep any of us . . . serious.

You wouldn’t be reading this if you didn’t have some interest in or already established practice of the philosophy of teaching knowing as Comprehensible Input.  As I often like to remind myself: in a Comprehensible Input framework, three things must always be in play: comprehensible material in Latin; compelling material in Latin; and a caring atmosphere in the classroom. Those three items create a framework around what we do in the classroom. That’s why I call it a philosophy.  It frames and informs what we do, but does not dictate what we do. Teaching within the framework of CI is a game changer.  Whatever Latin material I work with, I have to make sure that every single word is understandable to every single student in the room.  Every day. (That’s still very serious). I also have to find ways to make sure that whatever material I bring into the room is intensely interesting to the students in the room. In addition to that, I need to insure that however I bring whatever material I bring to the room is done in a way that students experience as caring and supportive.

Those last two of the three necessary items hold the real possibility of moving away from serious and toward silly. Most of us are working with children and teenagers.  Even if we are working with adults, the truth is that what we find most interesting will always have the qualities of story in them, and as human beings, we like to laugh. While tragoedia is a long standing genre in our literary tradition, comoedia is as well, and it’s not a newcomer to the literary scene. If we look at our own comedic literary traditions, they are not only some of our oldest works, but they are always attempting to deal with the serious in life through laughter.  Situations that feel the most supportive to us always include smiles and laughter especially around the most serious of situations.  We cannot do serious all the time and pull off smiling and laughter.  Work that is truly compelling to our students and which is done in a way that is caring and supportive will at times include silliness.

Our work helping students acquire Latin while teaching within the CI framework can go off the rail in two different directions: with too much serious or too much silly. This is really not a choice of whether our work will be serious or silly, though at times I am sad to hear it cast that way.  If someone is teaching within a CI framework and all that they are doing every day, all year, in every level is just silly, then they are missing real opportunities to connect the fun and light hearted things of life with the richness of our Latin literary tradition. On the other hand, if all that we do every day, all year in ever level is about following a textbook, section by section, plodding through a grammar syllabus and never using any Latin with students that connects with their daily lives, we are likely being too serious.  In that case, we miss the opportunity to help students experience Latin as a language for communication that might be relevant to who they are and what they do. What if I told you that I have used a story about a monster who went to Starbucks to get a cookie but Starbucks was out of cookies?  The monster then had to go from one Starbucks to another but they were all out of cookies.  Is that too silly?  You might think so at face value.  What if I told you that in the use of that story all of the students in the room (who, btw, thought the story was outrageously funny) acquired all the vocabulary they needed to read a Roman myth about the creation of the world completely in Latin.  Not so silly now, is it?  The follow up conversations with students about the myth were how sky (Uranus) and earth (Gaia) really are sort of the parents of all that is on earth, and that was a pretty serious conversation.

It’s always okay for things to go a little silly in this work for two reasons.  1) Silly can be a vehicle both to compelling material and a caring atmosphere, and 2) you are the language and literature expert in the room.  You have the capacity to take what they create and re-embed it into the Latin literary, cultural and historical tradition. Most often, when we do that, students want to know more about that tradition, and that’s why we are helping them learn Latin in the first place.

I’ve watched us as a Latin teaching community go through our growing pains as increasingly we embrace Comprehensible Input as a framework for helping all kinds of learners acquire ability in Latin.  At first, the great reaction was “you don’t teach grammar!”  That’s simply not true.  What is true is that in a CI framework, we teach grammar very differently than before, and it is no longer the engine that pulls the train.  More recently, I’m hearing: “CI work is just too silly to be taken seriously.” The truth is, using a CI framework allows us to take our students and their lived contexts seriously, and it allows us to be a little more light-hearted about this vast literary, cultural and historical tradition within which we work.  Too serious, too much of the time is going to kill this language tradition in our schools.  We might just ponder this.  Within our own literary tradition there is written this tension between too serious and too silly.  Catullus came along and offered what was derided as “light verse.”  Ovid appeared and not only did us the very serious favor of preserving the only copy of Greco-Roman myths in one huge collection, but he did it by making a little fun out of almost all of them–his own unique signature, most often at Vergil’s expense.  Plautus, one of our oldest literary giants, does this almost mundane, predictable physical humor with the same 4 or 5 characters even as he deals with issues of love, rejection, slavery, poverty and power.  Pretty serious stuff for comedy.  Silly and serious.  As a literary tradition, that is exactly what we do–holding these things together.

Bob Patrick

OWI: One Word Images

I recently was able to sit in on a workshop being offered by Steven Ordiano as he demonstrated OWI–One Word Images.  I think all of us acknowledge that this CI activity originates with Ben Slavic, and I am sure that like many others, it has been touched and shaped by many practitioners of Comprehensible Input.  Here’s my freshest take on OWI thanks to Steven.

Begin OWI by establishing a few jobs in the room.  You will need:

  1. An artist–the artifex.  The artist should be given a blank piece of paper or butcher paper, some colored markers and an ample surface to work on.  The job of the artist is to draw as best as possible the object or animal that the class is deciding on during the OWI.  This becomes the “image” part of the OWI.  The artist should work in a space where others cannot see the artwork as it takes shape.
  2. A Decider.  When Steven did this in Spanish, he called this job proffe2 (proffe-dos, or teacher # 2).  In Latin, we might call this person “secundus/a” or “iudex.” I use iudex.
  3. A Dictionary person–the lexicographus.  Steven had this person look up any word he did not know that came up in the lesson.  Teachers might think this beneath them or be disturbed at the notion that they might be caught not knowing a word, but the truth is that none of us know every word we need all the time.  In fact, during this session, someone called for a “woodpecker” in the OWI, and Steven couldn’t immediately remember the Spanish word for it (Spanish is his first language, btw, so that gives me a little room for not knowing every word).  He turned to his Dictionary person and had them look it up.  For Latin, I would have that student open up Whitaker’s Words to use simply because it’s an easy, online dictionary for students to use.  We all know that finding the right word can be complicated, and sometimes more modern Latin words don’t show up in the best dictionaries (arming a beginning student with Smith’s massive volume or teaching them how to use the Morgan lexicon is too much at lower levels to ask, in my opinion).  If they search in Whitakers, they can then give you the options, and you can determine with them the correct word.  Everyone is watching you do this, and it becomes a mini-lesson in how to use a dictionary.

Once the jobs are established and each of them knows what they are to do, you proceed this way.

Ask the class to give you an object or an animal to work with as your “one word.”  There can be some discussion about it in English.  Once several options are on the table, your iudex must decide.  If these are more than beginners, you may invite:  iudex, quid dicis, quid cernis?  The Decider then tells you what the word will be.

You then ask the class questions about the object/animal. Your questions can include:

1. Size
2. Color
3. What it likes (especially with animals) or what things are near it (with objects).
4. What the problem is.
5. What the object/animal’s name is.
6. Where the object/animal is now.

Knowing that you are going to be asking all of these things, keep a few things in mind.

A. Ask for input on each item above.  Students can answer in whichever language they are capable of.  You always repeat it in Latin.  After many options are out for discussion, always have the Decider determine which it will be.  If your object is a monkey–simia, then you ask about size.  Magna, parva, alta/brevis statura.  For something like a monkey, you might get “long arms” and you can couple it with alta/brevis statura for an interesting image.  This might be: simia, brevis statura est, sed bracchia longa habet.

B. Recycle often.  That means that after you have asked information about each item above, you always restate in Latin everything that you have determined.  So, when asking about what the monkey likes (and of course you get suggestions like bananas, hamburgers, french fries, and another monkey), your decider gives the answer (another monkey) and you recycle everything like this:  Discipuli, simia est brevis statura sed bracchia longa habet.  Simia colore spadix est et simiam delectat alia simia nomine Frederica.  The further down the list you go, the longer your recycling will become–the more repetitions you get in, and the more Latin your students will be hearing that they understand.  Comprehensible Input!  If you are concerned at this point that this is getting “too silly” don’t worry.  You are the Latin and Classics expert in the room, and you can take whatever they create today and tie it into Roman culture, history and literature tomorrow.  In this instance, you know that there are quite a few fables from Aesop and others which include simia as the main character. (You may be reading this and thinking: I did NOT know that a monkey was the main character of several fables. That’s okay.  You simply look up the object or animal that your students chose for OWI and find out where in Latin Literature this word shows up.  Look it up in Lewis and Short, for example, and see where it occurs.  Then, pull an example–make it simple enough–and work it into the lesson tomorrow.  More on that below).

C. Decide how far you are going with this.  You have a couple of options.  OWI can be a warm up, brain break, or closing item for a class.  If you decide to do this, when you have finished asking about the 6 items above, you are done.  You invite your artist to reveal the image.  Perhaps you hang it up so that it is now part of the room, and you move on with whatever else you have planned.  Or, you can decide to ask a story with the OWI.  In this case, you do that by asking where the character needs to go in order to deal with the problem.  The process is the same as for the previous 6 items.  The class volunteers possibilities, and the Decider determines what it will be.  This then can go as long as you want, and you are always recycling everything.  This story could develop over several days if you wanted it to.  It could simply be what you do today, and 5 minutes before class is over, you call for a surprise ending to the story.  They offer possibilities and the Decider gives the answer.  If you think that you are going to ask a story, then, I would include one more job: the Scriptor.  This is a student who has already shown some advanced interest and who might sometimes be bored because things don’t go fast enough.  The job of the Scriptor is to write down everything new that YOU say in Latin.  By the end of the class, you then have a script, more or less, of the story, and you can very quickly and easily type it up, correct any errors, and have a reading ready to use later in the week. If I were to choose this option, I would also work an ancient fable about a monkey into the story (perhaps as an embedded story), which folds Latin literature into the class creation.  When the story is re-read, you can include the artwork that the artist has created by taking a photo and putting it on the page.

Remember, in a Comprehensible Input framework, three things must always be in play: comprehensible material in Latin; compelling material in Latin; and a caring atmosphere in the room.  It’s always okay for things to go a little silly in this work for two reasons.  1) Silly can be a vehicle both to compelling material and a caring atmosphere, and 2) you are the language and literature expert in the room.  You have the capacity to take what they create and re-embed it into the Latin literary, cultural and historical tradition. Most often, when we do that, students want to know more about that tradition, and that’s why we are helping them learn Latin in the first place.

Bob Patrick

Daily Rituals

I am finding that there are some daily rituals that can be very helpful to us in a CI classroom both with comprehensible input and with classroom management.  I will suggest just a few–some for me are tried and true, and one is brand new!

  1. Salutatio:  when the classroom bell rings signaling that class has started, I teach students that I will greet them (salvete!) and that I expect their enthusiastic response (Salve!).  If I get a weak response, I just keep doing it until everyone is on board.  Always–I deliver with a smile. That’s a required part of the ritual. Mine may be the only smile someone in the class sees all day, which would be sad, but it would be sadder if I missed the opportunity to the that one!  In the beginning with brand new students to me and certainly with Latin 1 students, I explain that this is a social greeting.  It does not mean “hello” but like “hello” is a social exchange for greeting others.  I explain that it means something like “Be well, safe, healthy!”  It is a wish for good health, and that’s a great way to greet others.  At the end of class, of course, we do the opposite: Valete!  Vale! (which I have explained, is also a wish–for wellness and strength).
  2. Telephona: After the Salutatio, I go through the following with gestures.  The first few days, I explain each piece of it along with the expectation that I do this as a fun reminder, that they are welcome to say it along with me (most do), and that by the end of this little ritual, I expect all cell phones to be silenced and in their bookbags.
    Magister: Discipuli, ubi sunt telephona?
    Discipuli: In saccelis!  (I point to a book bag)
    Magister:  Non in manibus (waving my hands near my shoulders); non in gremio (sort of sitting poster and hands in my lap); non in fundis (hand into my pocket), non sub clunibus (lift up a leg and tap under the top of my leg–I tell them this means–“not under my butt” which they think is hysterical).  Telephona tacita in saccellis sunt!
  3. Nomina: Especially with students who are new to me, I always do a formal roll call until I know all of their names and faces.  I make a big deal of pronouncing their names correctly and calling the name they like to be called.  But, I begin with this ritual, which I explain the first few days so that they know what we are all saying.  I keep it on the board for about a week.
    Magister: Nomina vocabo.  Respondete “adsum.” Then, I call names.  I also teach them to say “abest” for anyone not present.  If someone is absent, I respond “eheu, _____ abest!”
  4. CI Reminders: For students beyond the beginning point, this is a new ritual I am trying.  It’s what I otherwise will remind Latin 1 students (and really all levels) of the first week in English.  It goes like this.
    Magister:  Discipuli, commemoremus:  Cum vobis dico, respondeatis tamquam si mirabile sit–fortasse ooooooooooooooh.  Cum vos aliquid interrogo, detis mihi responsum!  Cum unum discipulum interrogo, quis respondeat?  Ille discipulus vel illa discipula mihi respondeat.  Incipiamus!

When introducing any ritual, we have to provide full understanding up front about what every word means.  Every student in the room HAS to know what every word means.  No exceptions. Then, over time, the ritual begins to feel comfortable and expected.  It becomes part of what we do together every day, and anything like that which invites us into the language, feels comfortable and is understood helps us with classroom management issues.  Used together, these little rituals: provide social greetings, take care of phone issues, account for student presence/absence and establish how we go about things in our CI classrooms.

Word Chunk Game–Revisited and Revised

What follows are the instructions for playing the Word Chunk Game, still one of the most favored things that we do in our now very large Latin CI program.  I have made some changes to the description based on several years of playing it now.  One aspect of the original  version that remained problematic is that the teacher has the burden of seeing who raises their hands first (which team) for answering the question.  Because this turns the game into something like a Certamen Contest (who has the fastest finger on the buzzer), the language comprehension aspect of the game suffered.  This revision removes hand raising as an aspect of answering questions and replaces it with names drawn out of a container.  How very Roman!  The Fates get to decide which person in which group gets the next question.  By design, everyone in the room will be called on and every group’s discussion of the question or word or phrase is essential.  So far, as we play the game, the language comprehension aspect has been returned to front and center (okay, maybe just behind the enticement of throwing balls into a basket)!  If you have never heard of this game, just read below as if this is the only way to play!  I have marked revisions below with bolded type.

This game is both low stress on the teacher (unless students having lots of fun in your classroom stresses you out!) AND while having fun an intense vehicle of language acquisition.  It is used with material, a story for example that you have already been working on with students, so I think of this as a Friday kind of activity to review a story, especially with structures or vocabulary that has been challenging.  First the set up; then the procedures:

  • Pass out to students small pieces of card stock (2 x 3 inches or smaller) and have them write their full names on one side of the paper, and then fold once.  Collect the names into some sort of container.  Have a separate container for each class and mark it so that you will know next time which container has their names.
  • Students are divided into small groups (3-6 per group, depending on class size.  3 is better but in huge classes you may have to go with larger groups.
  • groups are in small circles around the edges of the room so that there is a long ally down the middle of the room.
  • At one end of the room, a box is set up on a stool (or some other arrangement) that approximates a basket. You can also find in various stores small wastebaskets that look like a basketball goal, if you like but not necessary.
  • 3-6 whiffle balls or tennnis balls or rubberized balls that fit nicely in one hand are lined up at a “free throw line” some 15 fee or so away from “the basket”.  (how many balls depends on the size of your groups)
  • Teacher preps a list of sentences from the story that has already been read and which highlights structures or words new to the group.  (e.g. if relative clauses are new, most sentences should have relative clauses).  You can pull sentences directly from the story, but you can also edit them to focus on what you want to focus on.  Separate items can be single words, phrases, clauses or sentences.  Single words in context are always better.
  • Each group  must come up with a name for itself, in Latin, and a gesture that they do with the name.  Any time that a person from their group is called on, they must shout their name in unison while doing the gesture.  If they don’t, or even if one member doesn’t, they don’t get to answer the question and it goes to the next person chosen.  This seems silly.  Don’t skip it.  It helps build camaraderie in the group which is necessary for how they have to work together.
  • The game proceeds like this.  Teacher reads the first sentence slowly, aloud, and continues to do so, over and over again.  Group members huddle together and decide, together, what the sentence means. After reading the item at least three times, shake the container of names and draw a name out.  Call on that person.  The group says their name and does their gesture.
  • ONLY that person whose name was called can answer, and if the group feeds the answer, they are disqualified.  HOWEVER, if the person makes a mistake, group members may correct it.  The teacher must distinguish between FEEDING the answer and offering CORRECTIONS.  Corrections are allowed.  Feeding the answer is not.  Because no one knows whose name will be chosen, they learn very quickly that everyone must know what the item means before they raise their hands.
  • If the person called on gives the correct English meaning of the sentence, the entire group goes to the free-throw line and shoots for points.  Teacher keeps score.
  • An easy way to work on Latin numbers is to announce the score after every score earned.  Something like (group name) duo, (group name) quinque, (group name) septem, (group name) nulla), (group name) tria puncta habent!
  • If the person does not give the correct English and the group cannot correct mistakes, the teacher calls on the group whose hands went up second, and so forth.
  • At the end of the period, the group with the most points (or groups if there is a tie) have earned bonus points that they can use on a quiz or test grade (teacher’s discretion).

This is a listening and comprehension game.  They are “re-reading” old material, which is always good.  They are helping each other understand.  Because you can focus on certain structures or words, and because you are reading slowly, clearly, over and over again, they are getting multiple repetitions of Latin that they otherwise would not have done on their own.  Students swear by how helpful this game is.  My problem is not overusing it.