Sunday, August 14, 2016

Takeaways from Express Fluency: Latin Teacher Training with Justin Slocum Bailey

Over the past two days I was fortunate enough to attend a historic event: the first iFLT-style teacher training conducted in Latin. iFLT style means that we teachers observed while an experienced TPRS instructor taught a class made up of real language learners who didn’t know Latin- in this case, mostly adults, but usually I believe it’s school age children. Express Fluency, run by Elissa McLean, was the sponsor. Elissa herself was one of the Latin students, which I really appreciated as an observer. It was a lot of fun to watch her learn and get excited enough to use Latin with us during breaks! I hope in the future I’ll have time / energy to take Spanish or something from Express Fluency, since it’s local-ish to me and affordable (the credits were INCREDIBLY, pardon the pun, affordable, too: $62 each! what!). I also got the chance to briefly meet Laurie Clarcq, the co-inventor of Embedded Reading, who is charming and humble and full of great ideas.

You can find information about the detailed schedule here, but basically the format was this: over two days, there were nine hours of Latin TPRS and general CI-oriented instruction. We teachers sat behind the class and observed what the instructor did. In the time before and after the Latin class each day, we discussed with the instructor and each other what we’d seen and had opportunities to ask questions and discuss how TPRS works in the real classroom.

The instructor was this guy Justin Slocum Bailey, who came all the way from Michigan to Brattleboro, VT to educate us. If you’ve spent any time with him or his website, you know how lucky we were. If you haven’t, I am excited to introduce you.

Okay, so down to the actual stuff I saw. I’m not going to cover TPRS basics too much because there’s a lot out there already on circling etc. This entry is more specific ways I saw Justin using these techniques very effectively, or just things that I particularly enjoyed.

A quick disclaimer: these are my impressions of what Justin was doing. I can’t speak for his actual motivations or thought process. I’d like to think I’m accurate, but definitely don’t judge Justin solely on how I describe him here.

Building Class Culture

Justin is a wonderful builder of class culture. Granted, this was a willing audience of adult language teachers already at least slightly interested in CI and three children of such language teachers. I imagine it might take him a little longer to have a class of “real” high school students eating out of his hand, but it’d be like fifteen minutes instead of two minutes.

One set of tools he uses extensively are gestures, both for his own and student use. He uses gestures extensively and consistently to build atmosphere, negotiate meaning, assess student understanding, cue participation, etc. To be clear, I think almost all of these gestures are either from ASL or from an amazing language teaching method Justin told us about called Where are your keys? (WAYK), which its inventor, Evan Gardner, uses to help disappearing language communities keep their speech alive without requiring extensive teacher training. I know Justin wouldn’t want to take credit for their invention, although he’s certainly a master of execution.

Setting up expectations by using cues: One “cueing” gesture I liked was “play with me,” which Justin used when he wanted to return to the activity: Much more immediate and efficient than “Okay class, let’s get back on topic now. We’re going to go back to the story blah blah...”  Another he used was a sort of “gimme gimme” gesture for “give me some ideas here.” When you ask a truly open ended question in TPRS, it’s helpful to have this gesture so students know the answer should be something they make up, rather than something they should be able to find in the story so far.

Safety Signals: These are old hat if you’ve been reading about CI at all, but I liked how Justin used them. One thing he does is use safety signals on himself: if he thinks he needs to repeat something, he does the “repeat” gesture to let students know that’s what’s coming up. In this way, they know to expect reinforcement and don’t feel like they need to be trying to find the new information. In a sense, this kind of use is really a “cue” gesture as well.

Using English strategically:  Everyone occasionally uses English to check comprehension or clarify stuff. What impressed me was how Justin used English was to build class community. He used it to make jokes, often really silly ones. He used it to get excited along with the students about what they were learning, or to call back to an in joke from before. He used English to give compliments. When I said he had the class eating out of his hand, it wasn’t literally literal, but I think if he’d asked them to, they probably would have.

Making lemonade: As in “if life gives you lemons...” I really enjoyed watching Justin do this. A cellphone rang (Elissa’s, actually!) so he made the music part of the story. At one point, he wanted to move a podium a couple of feet over. It wasn’t that heavy but it wasn’t a one-handed job either. So he tried, then realized it was awkward and apparently decided to use two hands… but first, he ran over to the stuffed animal box, grabbed a large plush sea turtle, and held it in his lower hand so that the turtle appeared to be holding the podium on its back and “helping” him. When finished, he remarked, “testudo fortis est! ego non sum fortis. sed testudo est fortis.” and mimed a meaning for fortis. It was really funny and a great moment of “making lemons into lemonade.”

Corrective Feedback: During one of our teacher Q&A portions, someone remarked that Justin hadn’t corrected anyone at all. That wasn’t actually true. He just does his corrective feedback in such a way that you don’t notice it unless you know what to look at. One example was when he started using the phrase “magis amat.” No quam. One of the students said, “Oh! More than!” Instead of saying, “magis just means ‘more’.” He said something like “Yeah! MORE!” There’s a world of difference if you’re the student being corrected.

Getting everyone involved: TPRS usually uses actors, but I saw Justin use extra actors in a few interesting ways. One student “played” a speech bubble on which a character’s lines were written and held it up next to the correct actor. It was a great way to (1) include another student, and (2) scaffold output (3) without creating additional work for the instructor.

Another moment for this was when the main actor was looking for her “brother” who happened to be Justin Bieber. Justin (not Bieber) brought up five or six extra students, and gave each one a paper animal mask which they held so the audience couldn’t see what it was. The actor went around to each one and Justin asked if that person was the brother. Each time, they revealed their mask. Finally, the last one WAS Justin Bieber… except the mask was of John Lennon! And Justin told us this was “Justin Bieber senex.” I’m still not sure if he was just trolling the baby boomers in the audience or what, but it was a great surprise because obviously we all knew by the last person that this would be a Justin Bieber mask… except it wasn’t! It would have been just as funny with the Queen Elizabeth mask or the pig mask. With this activity Justin (1) included more students than otherwise possible, (2) in very low pressure roles, while (3) incorporating humor and (4) creating suspense, and he did it all (5) without allowing himself to be limited by the fact that he didn’t actually have the Bieber mask the story would call for. Making lemonade!


Justin showed us a lot of activities. I won’t go into them too much here because there are a lot of posts about CI-friendly activities already. Here are some I noticed him using: Circling; PQA; TPR; TPRS; Volleyball Reading; Volleyball reading with gestures instead of translation (a.k.a. gesture retell); Dance Party USA; bottom-up embedded reading, including with a “twist;” Backwards Buildup; Kindergarten Day; Pop-Up Grammar* (link is an FAQ; scroll down for what PUG is); White Elephant / Yankee Swap (doesn’t seem to be an existing activity but I’m going to leave it to Justin to make a post about what this was). I’m sure there are more things with more names, but that’s what I can pull out of my notes.


Again, this is my impression of what Justin did. I’ll include things he said, but they’re based on my insanely messy & incomplete notes, so please don’t blame any of this on Justin. Here’s some of what he’s said on planning publicly, also.

“Target” Structures: Justin was kind of vague on what structures he came in “planning” to teach. I don’t mean he was being cagey; he literally wasn’t sure himself. Eventually we worked out that he definitely had planned to start with surge and conside, a list of three rejoinders, and some question words. Apart from that, he had lots of possible ideas in mind, but nothing written in stone. That’s not to say he would have come in and taught them a bunch of random nautical vocabulary; he stuck to higher frequency words that are useful in a lot of contexts. He also told us one really important take away: most conversations, even if they’re about modern things, are still largely doable with high frequency classical vocab, e.g. puer basipilam cum sociis ludere vult. Only basipilam is a modernism there; everything else, including the syntax, is solidly Latin. So Justin aims to have conversations about universal, timeless things as much as possible, but he also doesn’t sweat it too much if he needs to insert a modernism in there now and again to keep it relevant to the particular interests of whatever specific, individual students he’s playing with. That relevance and personalization is what’s key.

The “Ideal” Curriculum: Of course we want to know what he’d do with an “ideal” curriculum… What he gave us was pretty bare bones: lots of TPR, including complex and extended TPR. La Persona EspecialDiscipulus Illustris throughout the year. Novellas used in whatever way, either as supplementary fun times or target texts in themselves.

How he plans: If there’s a target text, he’ll look at that and pick out some “salient language.” The example he gave was perfect passives. Then he’d come up with 1-3 PQA questions that would lead naturally to those features, e.g. “quis umquam a bestia fera morsus est?” He can then circle their answers in the normal way and also with “shadow answers,” i.e. answers that are wrong, but use the same construction: “a bestia fera MORSUS es an PULSATUS es?” etc. Shadow answers is a really useful concept for me (Terry Waltz is evidently the source for the term). I think I’m going to start preparing cheat cards with some options for them because I usually can’t think of stuff on the fly.
Regarding target texts, however, Justin told us he usually wouldn’t actually do top-down backwards planning from a text until midway through or even the end of the first year. For the first half or so, it’s all bottom-up based very much on the students themselves and what he can make work for them.

Wow, this wall of text is long enough and there’s still lots of stuff I could say. I literally already have 1200 more words I’ve removed from this post. If people are interested I could do a followup post with an even less organized description of stuff I noticed, but I think this is more than enough for now.

TL; DR: if you get the chance to watch Justin teach, it’s awesome and you should do it. Parts of it were a little tedious because I know Latin already, but if you notice, throughout this post I said “we” had these words, or “our” story. I was an observer. I wasn’t in the class at all. Because of Justin’s engaging personality and hard work, however, I felt like I was part of it. That is Justin’s magic, and it’s truly a joy to be part of.

* I’d like to start a movement to change the term “pop up grammar.” It’s a great name and very descriptive, unlike a lot of the jargon we have here in CI-land, but I think it’d be more fun to call it “Stop! Grammar time!” I’m also hardly the first one to come up with this.

No comments:

Post a Comment