Wednesday, June 22, 2016

How I succeeded with CI & TPRS this year: Assessment

Okay so it's been a week since I got out of school, and now I will try to write a "successes" post!

I've talked about the plan and how things went wrong. It is probably only fair to myself and my students to do the opposite as well.

Assessment Successes

At some point early on I decided not to do any tests because Unit planning is not... a thing I do... yet... and also because in the previous year I found that I kept pushing them off because my kids weren't actually ready to demonstrate mastery yet. I think no tests was a pretty good idea. It definitely lowered the overall affective filter.

Another thing I decided to do was only unannounced assessments because if people only do well because they cram for something, it doesn't give me useful information about their proficiency. Also, telling them in advance tends to get them stressed out. This was a good idea.

I also called all my quizzes "comprehension checks." Not saying the Q-word turned out to be a great idea. Even though they were effectively quizzes, even halfway through the year I still had students bragging to the Spanish students that we never had quizzes. They still stressed out once they got the papers, but...

since I allowed unlimited retakes it wasn't really a big deal for most of them. Next year I will definitely do retakes again, but I'd like to make it more extra-help oriented (i.e. you have to come work with me or do this extra assignment or something before you're allowed to retake it.). I also need to make multiple versions so they're not retaking the same thing over and over.

Initially my comprehension checks were all in Latin including the questions. I changed that mainly because of what Martina Bex describes in #1 here:
When assessing reading comprehension of target language texts, we almost always ask the questions in English so that an incorrect answer can only be attributed to a misunderstanding of the text, as opposed to a misunderstanding of the question or an ability to ‘hunt and peck’ to find the answer. There are a few exceptions, and they are noted throughout this packet.
Hunting and pecking was DEFINITELY happening before I started doing this. English comprehension questions made it much clearer to me what my students actually were able to understand, and I think many of them liked the change because they didn't have to stress out about the question's meaning. The difficulties here are that it's hard not to "give away" answers by using English questions- e.g. if the target structure was vult and I ask "what did Mary want?" a clever student should be able to figure out vult = want. On the whole I'm okay with that, though, because that in itself is a kind of reading comprehension skill.

Another great idea was no error correction. I based this off some things I read in Conventiculum Bostoniense's excellent pedagogy course, especially this article by Corder. If you've ever graded papers and watched students throw them away after looking only at the grade, this work comes as a breath of fresh air... and it's from 1967. If you don't feel like reading, try this Black Box video from Musicuentos & Indwelling Language on written corrections specifically. Justin has promised there's one coming on Corder's article which talks about oral corrections too I believe. Basically, and you already know this in your heart, most students don't get much out of corrections except a sense of failure. This is so, so so so so so contrary to how we teach Latin traditionally. Mark every tense error! Every voice error! No long marks?! F! F MINUS!

That sucks. It sucks to be that teacher because it's so discouraging. Even the best students make mistakes. And it sucks to be that student even more. "If my paper is going to be covered in red pen regardless, why even try?" So, cut it out, praise instead of blame, and "correct" errors by selective recasting and mostly by providing more correct input and more, and more, and more. Learning language is a slow, weird process. A three year old's English-- no matter how precocious the child-- is charmingly inept. Our students have had MUCH LESS input than a three year old. Why hold them to a higher standard? Additionally, students' errors tell us a lot about what they do know- so dwell on the positive! Here's some more links about how errors can tell us what students know, and how they're NOT random: one, two, three. I could go on, so let's leave this here.

Whew. I feel like that's enough on assessment. Oh, nope, one more.

I didn't do this enough, but it's a five finger system. 1 finger = "That might as well have been Chinese," 5 fingers = "I could teach that right now." 3 fingers is something like "I got what was going on more or less." After a reading, or after I've been speaking with the students, I ask them to rate it by "giving me fingers" (this was not an intentional phrasing and no one noticed that it sounded like I was asking them to gesture inappropriately). I like this rather than thumbs up thumbs down thumb in the middle because it has more of a range. A "1" and a "2" are pretty different in terms of self-perception. A "1" sometimes means "I've given up," whereas a "2" means "I'm still engaged but I really want some help." On a thumbs up/down/side scale, those would both be thumbs down. I think I'll use up/down for agree/disagree next year, but stick with five fingers for comprehension self-evaluation. hat tip to Justin Schwamm, from whom I got this system.

Okay, so this is a lot to chew on for one entry, so I think I will leave it here and do another one on other kinds of success I had. Assessment is one of the weirdest scariest parts of getting into CI-based Latin teaching, so I hope this is helpful.

If you're curious, you can dig around in this folder for comprehension checks. It's a big pile of everything I've been doing for Latin this year so it's not user friendly, but if you search for "CC" you will probably find a bunch.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

How I failed at CI & TPRS this year.

The title may be a little dramatic. I have not actually completely failed at CI & TPRS. I am however feeling a little down on myself for how the last part of the year has settled out, so I want to talk about that.

The Plan

The plan was to go full CI all at once, even though I'd been told that wasn't probably a good idea. I've already posted about how changing my grading system entirely was a big NOPE.

In practice this is how my year went: term 1, lots of CI & TPRS story asking organized around important verbs. Hooray! term 2, still okay although pretty disorganized. term 3, started teaching declensions semi-formally because I felt like it was time- that took 3 or 4 weeks of the 10. After that I'm not sure what I did exactly. I was still doing PQA and some TPRS stories and comprehension checks, though. Term 4, totally lost momentum and started doing pure vocab work using Quizlet vocabulary lists based on my Cloelia novella because I really wanted them to be able to read it. Did some TPRS activities still but not all the time. No more timed writes. Less PQA than before. Less spoken Latin than before. Yowch. So basically, started strong but disorganized, ended with more of a goal but less actual CI and more traditional modes. Just as happens to everyone, I guess.

Here's a fun list of the structure I hoped to implement this year, which I apparently last edited on Sept 24, 2015. Here's a document I kept running throughout my first year where I wrote down things I wanted to implement. 

The Reality

Let's go by how they're organized in that latter document. Red is total failure, Black is "meh", Green is success.

  • Vocab by gestures & pics, avoid English as much as possible
  • Dictatio?
  • Read along? (not sure what I meant here)
  • Myth storytime?
  • Central theme with target text? Tight connection between culture & Latin
  • TPR - for key vocab, verb persons, case?
  • TPRS
  • Movie Talks?
  • Circling with balls
  • Storyasks

  • Timed Writes
  • TPRS participation
  • Teambuilding through chariot colors: bigae et quadrigae
  • Games: especially tactile ones
  • Certain holiday celebrations
  • Occasional role-playing days even if I don't do a full RPG
  • Jocelyn’s RPG (edit to add: This is not Jocelyn's excellent myth RPG. This is a draft version for Roman families that she is not ready to release yet because it's not fully developed but it'll be super cool if she does. It failed because I don't have my act together. Jocelyn is super awesome and you should check out her site.)
  • surprise RPGs like the triclinium idea? (idea was students would have surprise game days where they'd have to act out Roman customs like dining etc.)
  • Student jobs
  • Elective homework: choose from a menu of homework options
  • DEA
  • Timed Write portfolio
  • Vocab quizzes written drawn or picture matched
  • 80/80 rule?
  • Tests & Exams with separate skill pages, given out individually as they’re ready? No giant test packets. e.g. a forms section, a vocab section, a reading comp section, they can do them in any order. Only exception is aural comprehension.
  • SBG
  • Safety net words & gestures (+ understanding checks ala Justin Schwamm?)
  • DEA
  • volume levels (
  • Assigned seats
  • 1 nurse pass, 1 bathroom pass
  • Brain breaks
  • I wonder if I can make them keep their bags at the back of the room with phones etc.
  • Remind (or similar)
  • Class website w/ forum (Check with admin)


So I guess how I feel is that I failed at nearly all of the things I planned to implement this year. OUCH.
Things I did but didn't do as well as I wanted are: assigned seats, TPRS storyasking itself, MovieTalks, Timed Writes (but not portfolios thereof), and dictatios. Things I succeeded on mostly are getting them to keep their bags at the back (but not their phones), safety net words, 1-5 understanding checks. 


Of those things I failed at, how many do I want to try for real again next year? Well, I definitely want more culture ideally tied to a central text. I'd like to do elective homework and student jobs. And naturally, I really want to get better at those things I only kind of succeeded at.

Let's make a nice numbered list of goals for each of those headings.
  1. Input: Use spoken Latin every day. 
    1. Stretch goal: provide backup listening & reading input online. 
  2. Output: Aim for everyone in Latin-only time every day, even if it's only 5-10 minutes. 
    1. Stretch goal: Figure out how to make TL writing attractive and assessable. 
  3. Engagement: Use routines to keep from losing momentum in "down time." 
    1. Stretch goal: Find a way to get ~100% participation when storyasking... 
  4. Assessment: Plan units ahead of time with clear means of assessing proficiency in a variety of modes. I say that, but I have no idea how to do that.
  5. Environment: Use Teaching with Love & Logic techniques to improve classroom management.
  6. Communication: Use a proper LMS to help organize student work, streamline assessment, & make parent/teacher/student communication easier. 
  7. New category: Culture: tie units to cultural themes and actually get work done with them.
  8. New category: Organization: Have actual units with target structures and themes.
So... those are some thoughts on best laid plans. Next post I'll write about successes, I guess.