Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Highlights and Takeaways from iFLT 2018

Salvēte omnēs!

I'm back after a month of rejuvenation and recentering. In mid-July, I attended the iFLT Conference (International Forum on Language Teaching), which was right where I live in Cincinnati, Ohio.

The highlights:
  • iFLT offers something tremendous that is rare in the conference circuit - 'lab classes'. These are classrooms with real live students (not just teachers pretending to be students) being led by talented and experienced CI teachers. Each year offers something different in terms of levels of learner, instructors, and languages available. This year featured the first-ever Latin lab class, featuring the incomparable Justin Slocum Bailey and my own students! Seriously, each morning of the conference, attendees can watch master teachers in action, and it is priceless. I was fortunate enough to see not only the Latin class but also Annabelle Allen, "La Maestra Loca". 
  • Tracks & Coaching - iFLT offers attendees some options on customizing their conference experience. You can simply attend the conference and go to sessions based on your (& their) availability, or you can sign up for a particular track based on your novicity or expertise in teaching with Comprehensible Input. When you sign up for a track, you are placed into a cohort of like-ability teachers and assigned to a lead teacher as well as at least one coach. My coach was the excellent Gary DiBianca.
  • Open Coaching - Coaching is available for anyone throughout the conference - they set up many of the coaches in a common area and you can work with them rather than attend a session. If you like, you can work with different coaches until you find your Mister Miyagi. 
  • Vibe - There is a relentless positive energy and encouragement! 
  • Twitter & Attendify - The conference has a vibrant Twitter and Instagram presence - offering a chance to connect from outside the conference and spread the love. The Attendify app provides a way for in-conference collaboration and communication. 
  • Latin teachers! I can claim to have been part of a good squad of Latin teachers. We ate lunch together, mingled with other languages, and in general rocked! 
Things I learned or re-learned, in no particular order:
  • A 'Map Talk' can be a nice switchup from a Picture Talk or Movie Talk.
  • "Picasso of Plates" - This activity involves students holding a paper plate on their head and trying to draw something without being able to see. Can't wait to try it!
  • It is so efficient and easy to follow a Movie Talk with any activity that can use screen captures.
  • The Point and Pause is powerful - my cohort reminded me this again and again as I learned Spanish, Chinese, and Indonesian from their lessons!
  • "If they laugh, they're listening."
  • Sounds effects & choral activities can bring the room together.
  • When dealing with a problem behavior, distract rather than reprimand. And keep it to a whisper! (Or break the flow with a brain break.)
  • The Seven Voice Tricks to keep engagement:
    • loud v. soft
    • fast v. slow
    • high v. low
    • p - a - u - s - e
  • Kahoot without technology! 
    • Use colored paper / shapes to represent the four possible answers. Have students hold them in the air to answer! Will they cheat? Yes! Will they learn? Yes! I have a feeling this will turn into a longer blog post with more variants once I've used it in my classes.
  • Compelling visuals are not hard to find:
That's all for now! 

Thursday, August 9, 2018

A Month of Mindfulness

Salvēte omnēs!

I'm back!! Where have I been? Well, many places, including some excellent conferences, and I will have reports from those posted soon. But for the past month I have embarked on an interesting quest, partly inspired by reading the Zen Teacher (more about it, as well as Dan Tricarico, at his blog here.) Those of you that know me personally are aware of my yoga practice as well as my being a meditator. And those things have been going on for years, with tremendous benefits. But the book got me thinking about routines and self-care in a different way - such that I decided to actually establish a daily mindfulness meditation practice for a month. In the past, I meditated, but there was no consistent habit or routine to it. I just managed to incorporate it often enough. This was going to be different!

In fact, so different that at first, I couldn't decide how I wanted to do it. I could not choose between trying to build the habit in the morning or in the evening. Both times had advantages and disadvantages. I had two tools and I could not choose between them - mindful drawing and the tremendous Headspace App. Both tools had advantages of providing reminders and 'pulling' on me to keep up the habit. I was physically carrying around my art materials and the phone app could pester me with notifications. I also had some boosts along the way - Miriam Patrick had created her #take5latin challenge, providing inspiration, and my school had paid for a subscription on Headspace, allowing me to access to many, many options for guided meditations. But in the end, there were no firm decisions made about these. It just kind of happened the way it happened.

Here is the finished result of my time in mindful drawing -

As per Miriam's 'Take Five' challenge, it includes:


On the Headspace app, I worked my way through the first basic pack, a bunch of the minis and singles (the End of Day one is a favorite), plus portions of the Self-Esteem, Regret, and Stress packs.

If it seems like this post is lacking in detail, it is. It could provide statistics, or answers to questions like "when exactly did you start? are there other pieces of art? do you actually meditate every single day?" For that last one, I'm not quite sure - and I think that's the way a 'Zen Teacher' would have it be.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Monday Night Musing #8 - All You Have To Do Is Ask (A Little)

Salvēte omnēs!

Welcome back to another edition of Monday Night Musings, when I set the timer for 15 minutes and let ideas flow instead of trying to craft, construct, and edit.

The topic tonight is 'on-demand' professional development, or the really recent phenomenon of social media serving as learning communities. Like anything, there are positives and negatives, but I am here to focus on the positive in particular.

A few weeks ago I posed a 'Quomodo dicitur?' (How is it said?) question to one of the CI Latin teacher groups, in regards to using Expo brand markers in the classroom in Latin.

My question: "If you were to use 'Expo', like an Expo brand marker as a Latin noun, would you put it in the 2nd declension or 3rd? masculine or neuter? Leave it as indeclinable?"

As far as I can tell, none of us has formal training in how to handle questions like this. It's all feel. And of course, there's not really a wrong answer. If I want to discuss Expo markers in my classroom with students, I can do so with any of the options above and be just fine. But some of us want to feel like we are aligned with something, and even if you have colleagues in your school, teaching Latin with CI can feel pretty isolating at times.

So what happened after I asked the question? Did the internet expo-lode into a flame war? Not at all. I received quick, friendly, and thoughtful replies that affirmed my idea. One answer even made me laugh out loud! The consensus was to model it as a 3rd declension masculine noun with a dictionary entry expo, expōnis. The reasons for this choice were well-stated and multiple. I closed out of the internet feeling good.

In conclusion, I would encourage anyone with little questions like this one, and especially anyone feeling the need for affirmation, to use this new form of PD to its fullest. Sometimes it is easy to think of Quomodo dicitur? only as a fantastic podcast or a powerful weapon for our students in the classroom. As a community, we could use more ad hoc acknowledgement of our humanity and chances to have small, productive discussions. So let's take advantage of the best feature of social media PD and ask some more 'Quomodo dicitur?' questions.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Monday Night Musing #7 - Maps

Salvēte omnēs!

I am a huge fan of maps, yet they don't find their way into my classroom very often. Reflecting on why this is the case brings me a fairly simple answer - I used to teach Social Studies, and in order to meet geographic standards, my counterparts and I would include maps with each unit in some way. I did not develop the same habit or pattern with language teaching, so maps tend to be something to build a unit around or as a way of keeping things fresh.

So what's are some ways to use maps?

#1 - Traditional Maps - Whether on paper or on a screen, students learn about the Greco-Roman world from maps like this one:
They can color them or add in the details on a blank map, etc. There is certainly some value to be derived from this, but this is a quick post and I'd rather keep moving. But just to be sure you've heard of it, there are plenty of free quality maps from the Ancient World Mapping Center.

#2 - The Quizlet Diagram - Using Quizlet's awesome diagram feature (more on this in a future blog post), you can create a game where students identify locations within a diagram, picutre, or map. Great for formative assessment, filling a little bit of class time, and for the fast processors who enjoy trying to get the best times. Here's an example that includes the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

#3 - The Interactive Map - Using tools like Google Maps, which allow students to explore more in-depth than a 'traditional' map. I had students do this for a lesson this year when we had only studied three of the Seven Wonders. Honestly, it was a 'be your own sub day' so I didn't think too hard about it except that it allowed me to facilitate and guide students instead of having to perform or lead the whole group. here is an example:  Student Three Wonders Map

#4 - The Custom Map - Incorporating geography, spatial or temporal mapping into a narrative. If you are a fan of Anne Matava's Story Scripts, TPRS, or Asking A Story, then you know the value of having characters travel through space (and or time). Each year my students read a story based on ideas from Goldilocks and one of Anne's original scripts. It involves a character whose journey home from school takes her to multiple houses along the way, and because it is a script, it allows for a lot of customization of story details by the students in class. Here is an example of that story turned into a meandering 'map' using Google Drawings:

I really do enjoy this story each year, and I also like to have students create this map because their final products can be reused for so many post-reading activities. A big hit with the students is Picture Sentence Flyswatter.

Okay, there's probably more to say on maps but my time is up! Feel free to share how you use maps in the classroom. See everyone next week!

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Monday Night Musing #6 - How Many Words?

Salvēte omnēs!

Welcome back to my series of short posts where I set the timer for 15 minutes and give you a little something read each week. The topic this week comes straight from the news, specifically this NPR story about the '30 Million Word Gap'. Are you familiar with the TMWG? If you are not familiar, there was a study done investigating differences within the homes of families from different socio-economic groups. The key finding reported was that there were vast differences in the words heard within these households, with the higher socio-economic class having a noted advantage not only in terms of total vocabulary words used by adults, but also the positivity and praising nature of the words. Hence the phrase "30 Million Word Gap" describing the difference between the professional income group and the poverty income group.

For more about it, see the following:

Firstly, for any of us who use CI to teach a language, knowing about the Hart & Risley study is important because it has had such a strong influence not on foreign language education, but on literacy education in general as well as many people's perspectives on what factors influence student success when it comes to language learning (in the case of the study, first language learning).

Second, because of the marquee usage of the '30 Million Word Gap' phrase, the actual number that makes up the gap has been called into question. When I heard that again in the NPR piece, my CI-influenced brain said - were those repetitions comprehensible? Or just total? And then I remembered that the study just measured total words, not meaningful repetitions. As a CI teacher, I'm going for quality more than just raw quantity. Sometimes the way the Hart & Risley study has been utilized emphasizes quantity more than quality, and other times it flips the other way. So is the point here about CI? Or is it immersion? And is anyone monitoring the difference?

Third, I think the criticisms in the recent NPR story are fair to bring up. No piece of research is perfect and there is danger in relying too heavily on any single thing. However, the title "Let's Stop Talking About 'The 30 Million Word Gap" is purposefully taking it too far (clickbait, anyone?). Ending a conversation about something that has problems t is not useful or helpful. Enriching, deepening, or resetting that conversation in the interest of addressing those problems are ideas worth exploring.

And lastly, the '30 Million Word Gap' is compelling because it tugs on our desires as educators to help, to empower students through quality learning experiences, and it also seems to provide a simple and low-cost solution. CI is compelling and essential to me because it tugs on my desires as an educator to help, to empower students through quality learning experiences, and it seems to be a low-cost solution compared with textbooks, technology tools, flipped classrooms, etc. I practice  CI because it can meet the needs of all learners and allow me to provide a rich, challenging, and differentiated curriculum. In other words, I believe it can prevent gaps in learning in a way that traditional methods cannot.

Thanks for reading - time's out for this week!

Monday, May 28, 2018

Monday Night Musing #5 - Text Compare Tool

Salvēte omnēs!

Tonight's post looks at just one of many free online tools you can use to work with texts. Specifcally, this one highlights "Text Compare." It's pretty simple and somewhat easy to use. I know many teachers use tools like these, and they may have their favorite. If you know me outside of this blog, you might know that my favorite is Voyant Tools, which is worthy of its own full-length post. I'm sharing Text Compare because my students have found it to be useful and mostly hassle-free.

To start, it doesn't require a login. That's a plus when working with students. Sure, they can't save their work to the site. But for their purposes, a simple screen capture usually does the trick.

Speaking of screen captures, here's an example of what Text Compare can do:

As you can see, I entered two versions of a text. In this instance, I chose an embedded reading I created based on the 'Dies Natalis' story found on Keith Toda's blog. Maximas gratias, magister! The blue text highlights differences in both the words and punctuation, even getting into the spelling of the words! This is awesome for those of us teaching Latin because of the amount of inflection it has. It can help you catch little typos and can be especially instructive for students to 'see' those inflections when comparing two texts. Perhaps two students are comparing their timed writes with each other, or perhaps you've given them texts from two differing perspectives (first person v. third person). In my class recently, students were being asked to change a certain percentage of words in a story and comparing the original with their adapted text through this tool worked very well for them.

It also happens that putting this text in there showed me a mistake on my part - if you read closely in the first paragraph, you can see that the items on his wish list are different colors in the different versions! Yikes! If you adapt or customize texts with student-contributed details each year or for differing class periods, a quick pop into Text Compare can save you quite a bit.

The final thing I want to point out is the last paragraph in each version. Why are they completely highlighted in blue? Well, as best as I can tell the code thinks they are completely different even though in fact they are not. I'm guessing it has to do with the spacing I typed between the paragraphs? I quickly tried to troubleshoot it, but even when I entered just the last paragraph, it thought they were 100% different:

That just goes to show that this technology isn't perfect, and that anything you use is just a tool rather than a talisman. Perhaps a wise reader (you?) knows what is going on and can explain it to me. In any case, that's all I've got for this week. Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Monday Night Musing #4 - What To Invest In Next Year

Salvēte omnēs!

I am back at the blog again - the new habit is working pretty well! And for tonight's post, I am going to veer away from CI & activities, although I promise not to totally ignore the student angle. Personally, blogging is hard for me. While I have much to share, the written format is not the best for much of it, and it is easy to hold what I publish to a high standard and therefore not publish things are not 'good enough'. So I am using this Monday Night Musings to improve on that. And so far, having a specific time and time limit to write has been helpful.

So, speaking of habits, there's this author, Gretchen Rubin, who has a book about habits and another book about what works for different people and a podcast, and other books as well. If you're not familiar with them, here's a quick rundown - Rubin writes a book about habits that people like. In the process, she discovers that what works for her does not work for everyone, because although readers like her habit book, her metohds fail them. So Rubin digs deeper and thinks some more and invents an organizational system for how people operate relative to expectations, which she calls the 'Four Tendencies'. It is not foolproof, but it is useful.

One of these tendencies is called an upholder. This person responds to both outer expectations (what others want you to do) and inner expectations (what you want yourself to do). Rubin is an upholder, and you can probably think of someone right now who just gets things done, doesn't let anyone down, but doesn't put themself last either.

Okay, let's stop a second. Why would I bring this up if I'm not an upholder? In general, school works for upholders. It is filled with rules and procedures. But having rules, procedures, and relationships in place also benefits other tendencies, specifically obligers and questioners. And that should cover most of your student population.

But it matters how you set these things up - questioners need to know why the rules and procedures are what they are. For example, I end every class with a two minute warning before dismissal- time to organize the classroom, for students to gather their own belongings, for me to have a last conversation with individual students. And because I have gone over with students in detail why I do this, even taking their questions on the subject, asking them to explain the reasons back to me, brainstorming alternate reasons why I might do this, they continue to follow through even with only days left in the school year. And because I almost always have a short, generally positive conversation with an individual student during that time, each student has throughout the year had direct experience with one of the benefits of the two minute warning - relationship-building! And in this way, even questioners like me (could you guess?) stick with the routine because they can now explain why they value it.

So as we all dream of a beautiful beginning to next year, I challenge you to think deeply about what to invest in that will pay off all the way to the end of the year, and especially how you can invest in it so that it works for as many students as possible, perhaps even all students.

Okay, time's up for this week! Thanks for reading!