An Experiment, Week O

It’s that time of year again.

Here in Georgia school begins next week.  After hours of toil my classroom is all set up and ready to go.  This year my Latin program has expanded to the point that last April we hired a second Latin teacher.  In the process of showing the new teacher the “CI” ropes, it dawned on me that much of what we were discussing could possibly be of use to other world language teachers out there, especially those who are the only CI-focused, communication-based teacher in the department—as I used to be.

So, I have decided to undertake a new project this year. I will focus on just one class (my three sections of Latin III) and post my lesson plans for that week.  I will try to post in some detail, with links to other blogs and resources that can further explain a theory, technique or activity. I will also post my own variations on classic activities and practices.  Along with the lesson plan, I will post class materials and student work as well in order to give the reader a good idea of what my students saw, and what kind of output/responses they produced.  Most importantly I will also provide personal commentary on what works—and what doesn’t.  I really want to a provide a play-by-play, warts-and-all picture of what a year in my classroom is like.  I also want to give teachers who are new to using CI-based methods some concrete lesson plans and curriculum ideas.

Without much further ado . . .

Week 0: Preplanning

First, I took mental inventory of what I perceived my strengths and weaknesses to be, and set some goals for myself to improve my weaknesses as a  CI-focused teacher.  I came up with the following list:

Weakness 1: Classroom Management

While I don’t typically have major behavioral issues in my classroom, I feel that I lose a lot of the small battles early (disengaged students, side conversations, etc.), and (predictably) these behaviors got worse as the year continues.  Last year, I was able to bounce back with some classroom management basics that I read in Fred Jones’ Tools for Teaching and in Ben Slavic and Tina Hargaden’s The Natural Approach to the Year.  I’m not a believer in the silent classroom; however, I know that if some students are disengaged or attempting to derail what’s going on, that’s going to interfere with the input and interaction in the L2 that I’m trying to facilitate for them.  If they are not getting comprehended input, then acquisition is not happening.

So, what’s my goal? Clearly posted classroom rules and consistent enforcement.  My rules this year are stated in this way:

HOW TO BE SUCCESSFUL IN LATIN CLASS

  1. LISTEN with the intent to understand
  2. Always CONTRIBUTE to the flow of the conversation
  3. Always RESPOND appropriately to questions and prompts
  4. SIGNAL to the teacher when you don’t understand.
  5. Actor and Artists: SYNCHRONIZE your actions to the teacher’s words
  6. INTERACT positively with others and the teacher.

As you can see, this year I’m focusing on rules that describe what I WANT the students to due, rather than what I DON’T WANT them to do (in fact, I don’t even call them rules this year).  The goal is to have clear expectations, and to spend the first week or two intentionally setting the tone for what I want our interactions to be throughout the year.

Which leads to a second goal. After having read through (for the third time!) Alfie Kohn’s PHENOMINAL book Punished By Rewards and (for the first time) Ken Robinson’s Creative Schools, I’m really determined to remove competition, rewards, and incentives (including grades) from my classroom culture as much as possible while still operating within a school environment.   It was eye-opening for me to realize that, ironically, some of my classroom management issues might have been caused by the very competitions and incentives I had established in order to improve student engagement.

But this will probably need its own future post.

Weakness #2: Finishing a Story

I’ve been using CI-based activities in my class for three years (this is my fourth year coming up), and I still cannot start and end “asking a story” or a One Word Image on the same day, or even over the span of two days.  Same thing with my MovieTalks (though this year I am adopting the term “Watch and Discuss” to describe what I do).  Things just get dragged out.  In the worse cases, there may be two long narratives going on simultaneously during the same week.  Usually it’s because my students still show interest and I just go with it, but ultimately what happens is that after a few long stories/movies, my students are apprehensive about beginning something else, because they know that it is going to be long and drawn out.  I’ve realized that a short, simple, funny, surprising story that you can tell to or co-create with your students in just one or two class periods is a practiced skill.  Therefore, my goal this year is for every story, character, or movie to feel TOO SHORT for the students.  I want to leave them at the end of class wanting more—another story with that character, another similar movie—rather than marveling in the long, complicated narrative that we created, but not really wanting to start another one.

Weakness #3: My Own Latinitas

It’s getting better every year, and I know more Latin than my students, but it’s nowhere near where I would want it to be.  I catch myself going through stages of acquisition, where for a while I would be totally oblivious to a mistake I’m making, but suddenly notice it and make a correction.  This year I will share these struggles as I go, because I know that this insecurity must be one of the biggest reasons teachers don’t take the plunge and change some of their methodology, even when they are otherwise convinced that a more active, Comprehensible-Input-rich environment is what they want to create for their students.

For now, my goal is to provide extensive input for myself through reading Latin and listening to Latin podcasts.  I’m also working on a new novella or two. Since I am no longer running a theater department this year, I hope to have some more time to devote to my own need for consistent CI.  Though right now I’m also expecting my first child—a boy!—in January, so plans may change (!).

I will see students in 48 hours.  I will post about Week 1 soon.  I’m optimistic that this could be my best year of teaching yet!

We’ll see if I still feel that way in September . . .

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