Monday, April 11, 2016

Staying in the Target Language: Tips from someone bad at it (& thoughts on an EdCamp)

On Saturday I attended langcampct, an "EdCamp" for language teachers. An EdCamp is an "unconference" (I know) which is sort of a thing where the participants themselves decide, on the day, what sessions they'd like to have, and there's no dedicated panel leaders or schedules or talks. On the whole, I think such a format would be most valuable as part of a larger pedagogy conference: one or two blocks of "unconference" with more structure for the rest of the day. That aside, it was interesting and valuable, and most importantly, free!

This is what our session schedule ended up looking like.
You can find notes from all the sessions linked there, and there are some additional ones here.

The session I got the most out of in terms of concrete ideas was about ways to encourage students to use the target language (editable doc: please be careful). I didn't love everything I heard- since it was not all CI people by any means, there was a lot about forcing output. But, this leads us to the main topic of this post.

One major goal for a lot of CI practitioners is to stay in the TL for 90% of the class time. This is something I struggle with big time for a couple of reasons. Mainly, I'm not that good at Latin-speaking yet. Working on that. But also, my kids aren't super interested in participating because there's no motivation for them to do so. I've tried a lot of different participation tracking systems but they're hard to keep track of in the moment and they're mostly fundamentally punitive. So... Gotta find a good way. Here are some things I've been chewing on lately, plus my favorites from this past weekend's "unconference."

Scaffold the heck out of it: Provide useful rejoinders and phrases around the classroom, like my desk dictionaries or classroom item labels. Martina Bex has great examples for French, Italian, & Spanish, and I did versions of those in Latin which you can find here.

A great idea someone mentioned at langcampCT was the idea of keeping a Google Doc from the very beginning of the year with phrases for different situations: for example, if they're going to be playing a game in pairs, have phrases like "It's your turn" and "I win" etc. Martina Bex has some phrases for discussing stories like this, and I think I translated them into Latin on that page I linked above too.

Grade-based systemsDEA sort of fits in here. I have tried different ways but I can't get DEA to work. I suspect what I didn't do right is the part where you really emphasize the rules out loud all the time... which is super duper important. Cf. Ben Slavic's rules.

The other day I came across the Ice Cream Cone of Participation: I love this one because it's all about everyone moving UP, not about losing points. I also love how simple it is. I may try implementing a Classicized version of this soon... On the other hand, it doesn't address speaking English out of turn at all, so I'll need to do something else too.

Keep yourself accountable too: Create a system where both the teacher AND the students have reason to stay in the TL. I have a student job of "Fish Thrower." The student has a Teeny Beanie Baby of a fish, which they are allowed to throw at the me anytime I break into English or say "okay, so, all right" etc. This doesn't put pressure on them, though.

Recently I saw this great idea from Katie Folke Sevilla off the iFLT/NTPRS group on Facebook (which I love, and you should join.): every time you say an English word by accident, they get a point. Every time one of them uses English, you get a point.

Visual Cues: Indicate that it's TL time visually. You can use a flippable flag or Open/Closed sign. I definitely want to do this: any thoughts on a fun Latin way to do so? 

One French teacher at langcampCT told us about her "Beret Days." At the beginning of the year they all decorated their own berets, and fairly often they'd have a "Beret Day" where everyone has to wear a their beret and speak only French. For us, perhaps Bulla days? Or I could just wear a sweet centurion helmet myself...

Participation Points as currency: This is not something that's on the table for me right now because I'm really not into things where I have to keep track of stuff. Scott Benedict has two articles on the subject at Teach For June: article onearticle two. The latter features Mr. Benedict having been pied in the face. You can do this through stamp cards or punch cards, too. Or paper currency- but beware, as this is easy to forge/steal.

Anyway, those are some thoughts. Please do note the subtitle of this post "Tips from someone bad at it." :) What have you done that's worked for you? What has not worked?


  1. Here's a great post on this subject by a more experienced teacher!

  2. This is absolutely, 100% my biggest struggle. I always give directions on the board in Latin (for 5th grade I translate them, but by 8th grade I don't); but I notice I interrupt my own TPRS stories with English. *GRR* I go into this big routine about how it's LATIN time and it's special, and we must speak in Latin and it's important etc...and then I undermine my own speech by doing it. I think most of it is my own lack of comfort with extemporaneous Latin speaking; if I were fluent it would probably be no problem. I think our best bet here, as Latin people, would be to observe a fluent speaker of a modern language in a CI classroom; how do they keep themselves comprehensible, and how much do they stay in the TL? Keep posting and thinking...we're all benefitting from this thoughtful work. --Michelle