Better Learners–Better Teachers–Better Leaders

I am posting this on January 1, 2016, so Happy New Year to everyone!  I recently read an article on the Harvard Business Review  entitled “Four Ways to Become A Better Learner.”  I wondered if it would be a good article to share with my advisement students.  Then, I read the article! Wow, this is really about being a better teacher, and these four ways of becoming better learners are aimed at leaders and teachers as leaders!  They are core to what teaching with Comprehensible Input is about.  In fact, these four keys to becoming “better learners” really echo the findings of CI research and teacher experiences who use it.  So, while I am not very keen on New Year’s Resolutions, I am very keen on learning how to do what I do better.

Take a look at what the author calls “learning agility.”  The best deal is to follow the link above and read the article for yourself.  Here’s my quick summary.

Learning agility “is the capacity for rapid, continuous learning from experience.”  Learning agility includes:

  • making connections across experiences
  • letting go of perspectives or approaches that are no longer useful
  • unlearning things when new solutions are required
  • focusing on learning goals and new experiences
  • experimenting, seeking feedback, reflecting
  • acquiring new skills and mastering new situations is core to learning agility
  • enjoying the process of learning itself
  • willing to take risks and not becoming defensive

There are four ways to develop learning agility:

  1. Ask for feedback
  2. Experiment with new approaches or behaviors
  3. Look for connections across seemingly unrelated areas
  4. Make time for reflection

If you read the entire article, you will see that this was written for corporate executives, but, in fact, it was written for those involved in leadership.  In my opinion, a teacher who does not see him/herself involved in leadership has missed something core to teaching and learning.  “Educate” from the Latin educare implies leading people out and growing them up, and that requires leadership.  Those of us involved in teaching second languages with Comprehensible Input will see the close connections between CI theory/pratice and learning agility even through my simple outline above.

I will close by quickly offering some first steps for implementing learning agility in our teaching practices:

  1. Ask your students for feedback with three simple questions:  a) what have we been doing that HELPS you learn (language)?  b) What have we been doing that DOES NOT HELP you learn (language)?  c) If you could change one thing that would help you learn (language) better what would it be?  Promise to read and collate their advice, and implement the major trends.
  2. When you look at your practice of Comprehensible Input, what aspects of it do you tend to steer clear of or do less often than you think you should?  Make a committment to regularly including that one new thing in your teaching practice this spring semester.
  3. How often do you engage in conversation with teachers outside of your language or outside of your language department?  Identify one or two teachers whose good work is well known, and find time to go and observe them.  Find out what they are doing in their German class or their Chemistry class that might work back in your (language) class.
  4. At the end of each day, before you leave the campus (I do this while walking from my classroom to my car) ask yourself:  what worked today?  What didn’t work today?  How will I change this the next time I do this thing?  (see the connections between 1 and 4?).

I’m thinking of taking the bulleted items above–the qualities of an agile learner–and making a little poster–for myself.  I think I’ll hang it something in my classroom where I am likely to see it each day–just to keep the reflection going.  Am I this sort of learner?  Am I this sort of teacher?  Am I this sort of leader?

Bob Patrick


When the “Test” is just more great CI–a best practice

As Department Chair, one of my duties is to observe the members of my department and add my observations to those of administrators who do the same.  (See my document on the Downloadables page on the GA Performance Standards and what they look like in a CI classroom).

I want to share what I just observed one of my Spanish colleagues, Mr. George Brennen, doing in his Spanish 3 class.  It is an extraordinarily good example of technically assessing students on “animals” but in such a way that the testing event itself becomes just the next good example of providing students with tons of comprehensible input that is both broad and deep.  I want to do what he did!

Here’s what he did.  He stood before the class holding three index cards of different colors.  Everything I saw him do was entirely in Spanish.  He asked the students to choose a color. They chose purple.  He then began calling the numbered item, and then describing in great detail the animal–it’s size, colors, where it is found geographically (with descriptions of those geographical regions), the countries it was found in, its relationship to human beings, and other animals, its habitat and behaviors.  Students were literally leaning forward, glued to every word.  I have a degree in Spanish.  My Spanish is very rusty, though I read it and often understand it fairly well.  I understood every word.  All the students had to do was write down the name of the animal.  He was on animal number 12 when I had to leave.

In one assessment (which, BTW, will be super easy to grade) students received tons of understandable messages about animals, colors, sizes, geography, climate, countries, behaviors, habitats and relationships.  This is brilliant!  Technically students took a test on animals.  I am without doubt that these students left with more acquired Spanish today then when they came in.

So, CI teachers of any language:  how can we devise strategies of both teaching with understandable messages and assessments which integrate and pull together all kinds of language material/themes/vocabulary that requires the students largely to listen and comprehend while only writing down a word or two?

This is going to be my own personal challenge for the week.  I have a unit on Roman virtues that I am about to start.  I am now aiming for that day when I can have long, broad and deep discussion with students describing a virtue. They listen and then write down the one word.

Bob Patrick

Latin Version of Pancho Comancho

Publius Publicanus

This game or brain break originated as Pancho Comancho used in Spanish classrooms.  I have changed the name to something a little more Latiny–Publius Publicanus, Publius The Tax Collector.  

In the original game, five (more or less–I use five) stand across the front of the room holding large cards with nouns and adjectives on it.  The teacher begins by asking one of the students (who, for example is holding the word “puella”):

Teacher:  Johnny, est Publius Publicanus puella?

Johnny: Minime, Publius Publicanus non est puella.  Publius Publicanus est (looking at another player and his/her card) stultus.

Mary:  Minime, Publius Publicanus non est stultus, Publius Publicanus est (looking at another player) frater.

And so on.  The teacher has set a timer for 30 seconds or 1 minute or another period, randomly for each round.  When the timer goes off, the person who is talking must sit down.  This goes on until one is left standing.  If nothing else, it is an effective brain break from any other activity you are doing, but if you use recent new words in the game, it becomes an opportunity to get them repeated over and over, gives students a controlled setting for speaking Latin out loud with minimal stress because it’s fun.

The Virtues Versions

In fourth year Latin, I introduce 15 Roman virtues as part of our discussion of various pieces of literature throughout the year.  I introduce them slowly, but after they have 5 of them, you can begin to use this brain break with them in a few ways.


Virtus ________ Publium Publicanum ennarat?

Minimie.  Virtus ______ Publium Publicanum non ennarat.  Virtus ______ Publium Publicanum ennarat.

(For this version, the virtues are all listed in the nominative singular on the cards).


Estne Publius Publicanus vir virtutis ________?  

Minime.  Publius Publicanus non est vir virtutis _______.  Publius Publicanus est vir virtutis ________.

(for this version, the virtues are listed in the genitive singular on the cards)


Publius Publicanus virtutem _________ demonstrat?

Minime.  Publius Publicanus virtutem _______ non demonstrat.Publius Publicanus virtutem ________ demonstrat.

(For this version, the virtues are listed in the accusative singular on the cards).

The point is not to turn this into a grammar lesson, but because this is upper level Latin, it occurred to me that we could do this more than one way.

Bob Patrick

A Story Writing Idea

I want to share with you a couple of ideas I’m working with for writing more short stories of the low-level, easy reading kind of thing that we are in such need of for Latin students.
“You can never have a reader that is too easy.”  Stephen Krashen
I heard this time and again at NTPRS 2015, and the simplicity just kept inspiring me.  For years, I thought of my beginning task with returning students in the Fall as reviewing grammar and vocabulary for several weeks before starting anything new.  They always came back saying that they had forgotten all their Latin (and it seemed to me that they had).  A few things have shifted for me over the years that seem to really benefit my students.
1. Since beginning CI work 15 years ago, my students are much less likely to complain that they have forgotten all their Latin.  Even if they come in at the beginning of the new year worried about that, it’s just not the case.  They actually forget very little if any that they learned through CI methods.  A fourth year student came in last fall really anxious that he had forgotten and begging me to let him drop the course.  I consoled him and refused to let him drop.  It was evident in just a couple of days that he had not forgotten anything, and he ended the year with a 96 in Latin 4.  This is not unusual.   This is common.
2. Since grammar is acquired best  unconsciously through story telling and reading, and since we are no longer sheltering grammar, reviewing grammar in the Fall is something I stopped doing years ago.
3. What we did start doing in our program a few years ago is to begin the new year in Latin 2, 3 and 4 with some easy reading that was “beneath them,” so to speak.  For example, we would take Latin 2 students to the computer lab and have them, over  two days, read all of Anthony Gibbons’s Gilbo Series found in the Tar Heel Reader online.  Even though it has 15 little chapters, they can devour it in two days AND, he wrote no ending to it, so it’s  the perfect invitation to go back into class on the third day and ask an ending to the story.  The Gilbo series is “too easy” for Latin 2 students, but, “there’s no such things as a reader that’s too easy.”  Most news stories, whether on paper or via the internet are written at 7th grade level, and none of us refuse to read  them because they are “beneath us.”  The “too  easy reading” is the perfect way to start the new year at every level (except 1, of  course).  It reassures students who are nervous that, in fact, they still have their Latin and that they can still continue doing this.
4.  But, class, there’s a problem!  In our Latin CI work, we have too few easy readers and stories.  So, here’s what I propose to do this year to help make a dent in that problem.  Carol Gaab and I had a conversation at NTPRS 2015 in which I told her about our 50 Most Important Verbs List.  She said, regarding easy, graded readers, that of course, 50 verbs is too many to work with.  “Choose 7 of those, or 14 or 20 at the most (for a novella), and work with those,” she said.
Here’s my idea:
I will have a class of Latin 4 students this year, and I’m going to divide them into teams of 3.  Each team will have a meeting with me twice over the semester.  Before each meeting, they will have to go into the 50 MIV list and pick out 7-10 verbs that they think are “most important.”  When they meet with me, they will have an hour (max) to tell me a story–in Latin and/or in English which only  uses those verbs.  A story–not a novella.  As they tell the story, I will type it up into a document.  This is an activity that is very much like the Language Experience model, which honestly, I’ve only used a time or two.  My goal at that sitting is to get  the basics of their story and any undeveloped ideas they may have.  Then, after they leave, I will polish the story into something that Latin 1 (second semester) students or beginning Latin 2 students could read and enjoy.  Over the course of the semester, we ought to be able to generate a dozen or more of these.  If several  of us did this sort of thing, and shared them, we’d have dozens in no time.
Whatever we are able to create this way, I will be sharing them, so stay tuned.  I’ll also report to the LBP list once this is underway so that we can have some discussions around it.  What I am imagining is starting school NEXT FALL in 2016 with dozens of “too easy readings” for any level that I teach.  Meanwhile, this little project will become part of my Latin 4 work this year.  If you are interested in this, you don’t have to have a Latin 4 class to do it.  You can do this with almost any level students beyond level 1.
Why all this talk of starting back to school in July?  Because in our district, teachers report a week from tomorrow–August 3.  The train is loading folks . . .
Bob Patrick

OWAT P: One Word At a Time–Pictures

Jeff Brickler offers this evolution of OWATS:

I was thinking about this variation on OWATS (one word at a time stories).  In the lower levels (1-2), the OWATS might be too much output.  I thought that maybe we could do the same thing but have them draw pictures stories instead of written stories.  Then we could put them up on the screen with a document camera or take a picture of them and put them into a Presentation.  At this point, we could do a look and discuss with the class or we could work with the artist to ask questions to elicit his/her story.  This could prove to be compelling and comprehensible as it would have an image to help with comprehensibility.  During this session, we could have the scriba write down what we say and then give it back the next day as a warm up/review reading.

This could also serve as a review of vocabulary if we wanted a break from embedding readings and writing movie talks etc.  I could easily see this lasting a week if we choose 5-7 review structures.   With the drawing and discussing and reading of 5-7 stories from the class.  Then we could have a game where they match parts of stories to images.
Jeff Brickler

OWATS: One Word At a Time Stories

I work backwards from a story or reading that I want them to do. I identify the new words in it. Recently, this was a couple of fables linked Roman virtues. Based on a list of virtues, students searched through Laura Gibbs 1001 Fables and identified the stories they wanted to read.

Based on two fables, there were 21 words or phrases that they either didn’t know or were not very familiar with. I put the words into a table using a large font, and cut out miniature flash cards. The Latin was in large block with English in small underneath it. Remember, these were new words/phrases. (Don’t panic. I don’t use flash cards).

I had students sit in groups of 3 or 4, and explained the process to them:

  1. I would give each group a word.
  2. Working together on one sheet of paper with a pencil, they had to write one good sentence using that word.
  3. When done, they had to call me over to approve the sentence. If there were a problem, I gave a pop up grammar kind of fix for it, and then gave them another word.
  4. Their next sentence had to begin to make a story based on the first one.
  5. The process continued: they write a sentence, call me over, get any pop up grammar help, and then a new word, a new sentence that furthers the story.
  6. When I run out of words to hand out, they get their next word from another group and give them one of theirs.
  7. With 5 minutes left I tell them that with their next sentence or two, they should bring their story to a surprising end.
  8. I collect the stories and type them up into a power point and the next day, we read the stories together.


  1. Students were very excited about this work. It was like asking a story but in a much smaller group, and each student had more control over the story. This work was COMPELLING.
  2. Because I did this with more advanced students, the stress over language production was rather low.
  3. They got individual attention from me for anything they were not clear about.
  4. Grammar happened only in pop up fashion.
  5. They naturally begin to repeat the use of new words in subsequent sentences. So, there was even in the activity, much repetition. On the next day, reading and discussing the stories provided more comprehension. They remained compelling because they not only got to see their story on the “big screen” but others’ as well.
  6. I had fun! (that counts, especially this time of the semester)
  7. I shared this with a colleague who teaches Spanish 2 and one “trailer” course of Spanish 2 students who all failed last year. He tried this same activity today with them but only with words they had already been introduced to. He said it went over extremely well and that his most struggling students managed to put together a nice story.
  8. This strikes me as the kind of activity that could be done with new words for more advanced students and as review, repetition with any level.

The process, establishing meaning of each word, keeps things SLOW, is compelling, provides repetitions, can create embedded readings from the bottom up, and involves backward design.

Bob Patrick

Two Truths and a Lie

Hi all,

With permission, Sabrina, a French teacher and very skilled CI teacher agreed to let me post her back to school activity here that helps us get students right back into the language in a way that is comprehensible and compelling.  Just change the French to Latin, of course!

I want to share what I’ve been doing on the second day of class with all my kids and it’s worked out quite well to get them back into the swing of language and give them multiple reps.

Yesterday I asked them:

1) to write (in English for my beginners and French or English for my higher levels, please note I give them the choice) 2 truths and a lie about what they did during break.
2) I collected all papers and one by one asked them to come and sit in the King/Queen chair (I no longer have desks in my class, just chairs).
3) to read aloud their 3 statements in French (I modified it slightly if needed).
4. I read each of their sentences out loud in French. If a word seemed unfamiliar I used Point and Pause to clarify. Sometimes I wrote their entire sentence to make sure we all agreed on what was being said.
5) I asked the kids to decide which one was the lie showing me with their fingers. Was it sentence #1, 2 or 3?
5) I turned back to my King/Queen and asked them: Did you really go to Las Vegas during break, did you really do bungee jumping etc….?

On the board I had prewritten vocabulary (including my high frequency verbs as I predicted they would come up). Prewritten vocabulary was mensonge (lie), vérité (truth), est allé(e) went, a fait (did), a vu (saw), a joué ( played), a mangé (ate), a reçu (received, got). Then if something came up on their papers that was interesting I just added it onto the board with translation. An example of that would be a student who wrote that he drove a 67 Dodge Challenger so I went and wrote “a conduit” (drove). I also asked the kids on the chair details about what they got, or saw or did to get more reps.

Today we continued with the activity for 35 minutes, then I took their papers and gave them a quiz and 95 % got 9 out of 9.

They were engaged because it was about them (personalization piece) and it was compelling and understood because they had all the support they needed (visual, gestures and repetitions).”

2014 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 11,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Writing in the L2 Classroom

Stephen Krashen has just shared, for free, a recent article of his about the appropriate place for writing in the language classroom. You can read the article here.  It is also listed on the links page of this site.
I see several applications to the L2 classroom based on this article, but they are not what we might typically or traditionally have done with writing in second language.
Krashen briefly recalls  previous studies demonstrating that having students write in the second language does not advance acquisition.  Cf. the first major paragraph on the first page.  The link and references are there for those who wish to look them up.
Even a few years ago, I was unaware of this research and would have argued that having students write was part of learning Latin.  I created several practices around that notion, too.  In retrospect, the 4 percenters were able to be successful with their writing (meaning that it was comprehensible Latin and largely grammatically correct), but I had no evidence that this actually helped anyone acquire more Latin.  My own experience in Latin and Spanish composition classes were equally frustrating.  I hated them, and did not feel like I made any progress in either language because of the forced writing.  In the Latin comp class, there was no comprehensible input, and in the Spanish comp class the input was minimal.
So, what’s the point?  I would now offer the following kinds of writing activities in the Latin classroom, based on the elements of composition that Krashen offers:
1. I would not do any of this with absolute beginners.  Perhaps by the end of the first year, or into second, certainly by third and fourth.
2. Ask students to create a short, fun story based on a couple of characters, a problem and its resolution.  My favorite right now is to ask them to create a fable with at least two animals, a problem and a moral instruction implied by the story.  It must be short.  I point out that the best fables are often just a few lines long.  This is not a novela or a short story.  It’s a fable.  For the first ‘writing’ all they do is make a list of characters and some outline of where the story might go.  This is  the “flexible planning” part of Krashen’s paper.  Don’t let anyone skip this.  Teacher can help by walking around and seeing what is going down on the list.  Students with only one character need to be prodded to have at least two.  Students with more than 3 or 4 characters need to be prodded to pare it down.
3. Return that story to them several times through the year–perhaps once a month.  First, ask them to carefully and slowly re-read their story, first out-loud to a partner, and then silently to themselves.  Then, ask them to improve the story. What you know is that in the intervening month, you have been giving them much comprehensible input in Latin. Writing (output) is always the product of input.
4. Offer no corrections on their papers, but read for comprehension.  Point to places where what they have written is not very clear and simply offer:  can you make this more understandable?
5. Suggest that because they are working on their story all year long, they may suddenly get an idea for it out of the blue at some time when they least expect it (like while running track, etc).  When that happens, they should make note of the idea and come in to see you before or after school and add that note to their paper for the next writing day.  Help them learn to expect creativity to happen to them, but also to know that creativity happens when it will.
6. Have them do some creative writing every day–perhaps in a journal–perhaps as a warm up or ending to class each day.  Five minutes.  Develop the daily habit of writing.  It will never be graded for grammar.  Only checked for completion.
7. Invite your students to consider that through writing, especially creative writing and regular writing that we simply give ourselves to, we often work out problems and gain new insights.  That’s what may come as a result of this.
If such a plan is followed over the course of the year, then in the last month of school, these stories that have been worked on like this for 8-9 months can be edited for grammar and polish, and you now have X number of new stories to share with next year’s students.
Bob Patrick