Friday, August 10, 2012

ACL Institute: Acquiring Vocabulary

Acquiring Vocabulary: It's More Than Just Flashcards
by Keith Toda

Keith already wrote a great guest post for us earlier in the year, so you may already be at least somewhat familiar with him.  He is doing great things in the world of spoken Latin instruction and I always attend his presentations because I know they are going to be valuable.

Acquiring Vocabulary
Keith emphasized the term "acquiring."  Too often students live and survive class via "cramming and flushing" information.  We know this.  There is not one person reading this blog who has not sat the day/hour/minute before class quickly jamming as much information in his or her head as could possibly fit just long enough to empty it all out onto a piece of paper and get a grade.  Then the information is lost, with only an echo remaining to reflect the fact it ever was there.  Ask me about the state capitols.  I can name five.  But I got 100% on my test in 4th grade because I am one of the most skilled people you have ever met when it comes to cramming and flushing information.

Which is why it's important to try to help your students acquire vocabulary instead of cram it.  Acquired vocabulary should stay with your students--they should be able to recall it days/weeks/months later when they need to read some Latin.  How often are your students flipping through the book, asking a student, or asking you for the meaning of a word?  Some students need help on nearly every word.  Sometimes these are the same students who have somehow earned 100% on every quiz they've taken, yet they can't read a five-word-sentence without looking up four of the words.

Of course, then we come to the point of the presentation.  How do you teach vocabulary in such a way that students are given a chance to acquire the language?

Vocabulary Experiment
Keith cited some research that addresses this problem. In her book, When Kids Can't Read, What Teachers Can Do, author Kylene Beers describes an experiment which she conducted with some middle-school Language Arts teachers.  The teachers were required to teach certain vocabulary words, 20 words per week, and students were quizzed over those vocabulary words.

The teachers made a plan: first, the teachers themselves were required to learn the 20 words.  Second, two weeks before the quiz, the teachers would have to incorporate the words into their daily speech and discussions with students to help the kids become accustomed to the words in context.  Lastly, the week before the quiz itself, the students were given the list of 20 words to study.  The idea was that by the time the students would see the actual list of words, they would already be familiar with them.

The results, however, were not great.  Several things contributed: the teachers themselves were simply unable to learn the list of words beforehand.  The sheer number of words was overwhelming to not only the students but the teachers who were being expected to learn and use them.  The words were impossible to keep track of--the teachers could not make sure they were using them in context enough to make them meaningful to the students.  In addition, the words were so unrelated, it was difficult to use them in the same sentences or even conversations.

Because of this, the teachers reassessed their approach and made some changes.

  1. The teachers narrowed the lists to ten words each.
  2. They chose words that worked together.
These changes are simple but they paved the way for the teachers to learn the words, use them effectively in class before the words were assigned, and of course fewer words made them accessible to the students.

The result was simple.  The students' scores improved.

In addition, and much more to the point, the students' use of the words in speech and writing improved. 

And that's the point of studying vocabulary words in the first place.

This all went to prove something many researchers have been saying for years.  In order to be effective, vocabulary instruction needs to be meaningful, contextual, and full of repetitions.

So why do we need more than flashcards?

Flashcards are a commonly recommended method for learning vocabulary.  However, they have a few faults:

  • Flashcards really only work for certain types of learners.  There are all kinds of learners, whether or not you subscribe to Gardner's theory, and some students really get almost no benefit from flashcards.
  • The words themselves are isolated and out of context.  This really matters.  Recognizing a word isolated, on a piece of paper, and connecting it with an English meaning is completely different from reading a word in a sentence and understanding its meaning without resorting to English or getting the feel of the word in that particular context.
Other options for learning vocabulary

Total Physical Response is not a new concept anymore.  The idea behind TPR is that students attach a movement, a physical action, to a word and through modeling, repetition, and teacher leadership learn to think of the word in the language they are learning.  And, with the right teacher, it can be extremely fun.

Keith had an unusual experience in the last school year that helped him see great value in TPR.  Due to a book shortage in the district, he had to wait for three weeks before his first-year Latin students got books.  Facing this situation, he decided it was the perfect opportunity (excuse?) to do a really intensive TPR-based introduction to the Latin language.

To his surprise, the experience was not only fun for his students, it was fun for him as well.  He felt freedom instead of pressure.  And when they finally received their texts, the students were more than prepared to breeze through the three chapters they hadn't been able to begin until that moment.

Of course, Keith did not exclusively TPR with his students the whole time.  One of the shortages of purely learning a language via TPR is that you really can't work on non-concrete concepts.  To deal with words that are not literal, Keith also incorporated a few other methods, such as storytelling and question and answer sessions.

Picture Flashcards
Keith has also created flashcards to help his students visualize Latin words.  You can scroll through the flashcards starting at slide 13 in the PowerPoint above.  He emphasized the need for the flashcards to be "obvious"--meaning they can't be mistaken for some meaning other than the one you intend.

The point of the flashcards is similar to the point of TPR--connecting Latin language to concepts rather than English.  The less time students spend "translating" a language, the more time they have free to think in Latin.  Some of his flashcards help guide students in attaching meaning: they ask simple either/or questions.  Is this a boy or a girl?  Is it one dog or many dogs?  That allows students to look at the picture, think about the Latin question, and answer without resorting to translation into English.

Where Are Your Keys
The last vocabulary teaching method Keith brought up in his presentation is Where Are Your Keys--or WAYK--which is a system both I and Miriam have blogged about ourselves (here, here, here, here, and here) so I won't add yet another description in this post.  Unfortunately, due to time constraints, Keith did not have a chance to present very much over WAYK.  Perhaps next year he can present a session over that by itself (hint)?

Finally, Keith's presentation was about thinking outside the box.  Moving beyond the way we learned vocabulary ourselves and finding a way of offering vocabulary to our students that is more effective and efficient.  Helping students acquire vocabulary rather than temporarily memorizing it.  

Making vocabulary and language-learning fun.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Join us: The Google phenomenon -- Google Drive/Docs


This summer, my computer was up for re-imaging and I had to remove all my documents from the computer. Two USB drives later, I was ready to go. Also this year, my personal laptop finally gave out and my husband pulled all my things from the hard drive. So, now we're at 3 USB drives, a separate hard drive, and various documents saved in emails. At some point, it just becomes too much. Enter knight in shining armor....


But seriously, it was my frustration with all the programs, and ports, and operating systems, et cetera, et cetera that prompted me to try the new Google Drive (originally Google Docs). 

Google is fairly user friendly and I certainly don't want to spend my whole post talking about setting things up, but I do want to point out a few new features of the Drive:
  1. The Drive is a downloadable file/program for your computer -- You no longer have to go to the website to upload documents. This file automatically syncs with the online drive!
  2. You don't have to sit and watch files upload -- Since the drive automatically syncs, all you need to do is move files to the Drive folder. Google will automatically update the online drive for you and your files will be accessible
  3. You don't need any programs -- My personal laptop does not have Microsoft Office and I have no plans to purchase it or download it. Instead Google Drive has all of those formats in it already. I can upload any of those files from my old computer and they are usable on the Drive. When you upload a Microsoft document, you will convert it to a Google Document, but than you can download it in a number of formats (doc, PDF, etc). 
  4. You can broadcast to students using the Drive -- I am not sure how long this has been a feature of Google. One of the reasons I was hesitant to use Google Docs/Drive was that I didn't want to make a presentation in Google and then have to download it and present it, thus requiring the programs I was trying to avoid. I have recently discovered that not only can you turn a PPT into a Google presentation, but you can present from it. It works just like a PowerPoint and has a full screen option.

What I really want to focus on is how we can apply and use these tools in the classroom. There are many uses both directly in the classroom and in planning. I'm going to highlight a few here and, eventually, add another post updating ideas. Please feel free, and I encourage you to, to add your own ideas in the comment section! The more ideas we have, the better!

  • Planning
    • Above is a view of my own Google Drive. I have organised the drive into general folders and then into specific units/themes. I can easily jump from one folder to another without having to go back to the main Drive folder. I can also easily see the last time something was updated. This makes planning really easy and allows me to move quickly between classes and levels.
    • Another thing Google does really well is collaboration. I can open any document and share it with anyone, even if they don't have a Google account. I can also edit their role. I can send a document I don't want edited (like a syllabus) or a document that I only want comments on (like a paper or presentation). I can also allow them to edit the document themselves or own the document (that is, allow them to delete it and change basic things). I can also choose when to stop sharing with everyone. This would be especially great if you are having someone collaborate on a lesson or test, but then want to personalise it for your class. You could initially share the document and then unshare the document. Similarly, you can create your own copy of the document to keep a separate, pesonalised, copy.
    • When I am ready to print or email a document, I can download it in a variety of forms. If it is a closed document (syllabus, paperwork, etc) you can download as a PDF. If it is an open form, or an assignment with blanks/spaces for activities you can download as a word document. I can also download basic documents as text, html, open documents, PowerPoint, Excel, or an image. I really like this because then I can upload something to my Google site and students can work from their computers, but I'll talk more about that in the instruction portion.
    • As mentioned in my previous post, Google is greatly connected. Any file in my drive can be easily linked to in the calendar (see my next post!), a Google site, an email, etc. This makes it really easy to update things from anywhere.
    • The Drive offers a variety of document styles and makes it really easy to create forms. You can create polls, registration documents, and contact documents, as well as collect data and organise it in a spreadsheet. You can keep track of money collected (for those of us who also collect money) or keep track of points and averages.
    • I'll start with the connection to planning: student collaboration. This goes two ways: I can collaborate with students and students can collaborate with each other. If I connect a document assignment in my website, students can then go and access that in the Drive. Students can work individually or share the document (so they don't have to be sitting together) and work together. I require students also share the document with me. I can then view their document and see what they are editing and what they are saying in chat (not to be sneaky or creepy or anything).

      We recently did a project that spanned 3 weeks. Students were in groups presenting their case in Latin and had to do lots of research and writing. Each group created a Google Document and shared it with their groups and with me. I was able to check on student progress while handling other issues and answer questions without running across the room every 2-3 minutes. After that class, I could go back, check their work and leave simple comments to direct them the next day. Within the comment function of Google Docs, I was able to leave comments that they could then "resolve" or respond to for further instruction. This cut down on time spent in class handling small, minor issues. I could do them at home, overnight, and have them ready for class the next day without taking home massive quantities of paper. Using Google Docs also made it really easy for students to evaluate each other's work quickly.
    • One of the new features of Google Drive is that you have more presentation options when using that function of the Drive. As I said previously, I was a little more than hesitant to use the Drive because I hated having to download a presentation to present it. Similarly, it was quite difficult to make template options stick and have animations work well. Whether I have become more tech savvy or if these issues were fixed, I am now very pleased with the presentation aspects of Google Drive. I can easily upload a presentation or template into the Drive and edit it from there. Inserting animations is particularly easy and the templates carry over well. The only issue I've seen thus far is that, sometimes, the animations loaded in PPT do not fully come over with the uploaded presentation. Inserting them is very easy and so this issue, for me, is not one that bothers me.

      When compared to some of the programs for presentations, I find Google Drive to be the better option. Inserting animations doesn't take over your whole screen and easily pops up next to your presentation without negatively affecting what you see. You can quickly see a preview of the animations and reorder by dragging instead of highlighting and clicking.
    • Finally, as I mentioned in the planning portion, Google Drive makes assignments very easy. Because it is saved on an internet drive, documents are accessible anywhere. I can email an assignment out or share access for collaboration. I can also connect a document to the website via the Drive (which also connects to the calendar, but that will be in my next post). Students can then access the documents in a computer lab or on their phones and work there.

      We don't have a computer for every student in our classrooms, which can make collaboration and technology difficult. One of the ways I combat this is by using Google Docs (which is free for smartphones). One student can keep a set of notes to share, one student can keep a running vocabulary list, etc.
I have found Google Drive very useful in my class and I intend to continue to use it. Here are some ideas for activities that you can do using Google Docs:

  1. Peer Review (using the comment function)
  2. Collaborative Writing (using the share and chat function)
    * Scripts
    * Stories
    * Question and Answer/Interview
    * Essays
  3. Collaborative Study Guides (which students can access at home, at school, or on phones)
  4. Fluid vocab lists (easily editable without making a new list)
  5. Easy grading for essays, stories, other written assignments, and PPT presentations (using comment tool)

I'd love to hear what kinds of ways or what ideas you have for Google Drive! My next post will be on the Google Calendar, which has many new features and is easily compatable with the Drive as well as email and your phone.

Friday, August 3, 2012

ACL Institute: Latin Immersion

Linguam Latinam Latine Doceamus!  Latin Immersion for the Beginning Latin Classroom
Presented by Suzanne Henrich

One of the sessions I attended was presented by Suzanne Heinrich of Ascanius.  Ascanius has many, many projects going, all of which seek to help children of all ages get a chance to experience the Classics.

In this presentation, Suzanne talked about a Latin immersion camp Ascanius has developed and some of the practices used at the camp that can be used in your own classroom to initiate Latin immersion--even if it's just for 10 minutes each morning.  She finished by presenting over teaching materials Ascanius is currently developing based on their experience in running the immersion camp.  The materials will already be organized and ready-to-use which makes them a great way to take a first step into an immersive classroom environment.

So, why should a teacher try to create an immersive environment in his or her Latin class?
According to Suzanne, teaching in immersion
  • provides meaningful context
  • teaches students that Latin is a language and not just a code
  • helps students develop direct associations between meanings and the Latin language
  • evens the playing field for students of other languages or backgrounds
  • improves reading and composition
And, most importantly to me, it's fun!  I value fun in my own teaching, so I appreciated Suzanne's emphasis on enjoying class.

Some background on Ascanius' Latin Immersion camp:
  • It is a two-week summer camp designed for middle school
  • The camp offers 10 days of curriculum (2-2.5 hours of Latin immersion material per day)
  • It introduces students to basic Latin grammar, conversation, culture, and Roman mythology
  • Students discuss themselves, their preferences, their surroundings, and the Romans
  • Topics move from very personally-focused to descriptive of the world around them
One of the most interesting things I learned from Suzanne's presentation (aside from the happy news that there are Latin immersion camps for middle school students!) is the concept of transition.  I think that it can be easy to forget how difficult it can be to toggle between two languages.  I know that when I and other teachers meet to practice conversing in Latin, there is a certain amount of time I prefer to sit quietly and sort of soak up the Latin the other teachers are speaking before I am ready to take part.  Yet I had never really thought about that need in my own classes.

At the summer camp, students have a song that they sing to enter the Latin language, and a song they sing to exit back into the world of English.  The important thing is offering a transition, something that helps students activate the Latin in their heads, whether it's a song, a countdown (also utilized at the camp), or even a moment of silence.

Once you have initiated Latin-only time in class, there is the issue of how to introduce new content without using English.  The Ascanius approach uses three techniques:

  1. Students learn the "Words of the Day" (verba huius diei) in a TPR/TPRS type of dialogue.  This gives them a lot of repetitions with some context.
  2. There is a puppet skit that is performed by the teacher.  This dialogue between teacher and puppet illustrates new vocabulary and any grammar structures or idioms that students need to gain familiarity with.
  3. Students watch a video that reillustrates the same vocabulary and structures (you can view some sample videos here--they are still in progress, but it will give you an idea of where they are going with the videos).
You can see that there is a lot of repetition provided to students so that by the time students are asked to use what they know, they have had a chance to truly acquire the vocabulary.  

And they are asked to use their new information.  Students are asked questions in Latin in a system that is again influenced by TPRS.  They are paired up to hold conversations similar to the conversations they witnessed during the puppet and video skits.  Students write in Latin, either answering questions or creating simple, guided compositions.  They are even asked to complete activities that require them to remember vocabulary and grammar structures from the previous days' work.  All of this adds up to a knowledge of Latin that, while it is built in only two weeks, has a steady foundation.

The last point that Suzanne made in her presentation is that Latin immersion can be taken on in baby steps.  Her suggestions for using the Ascanius materials to teach Latin immersion in class:
  1. First week of Latin I class as an introduction to Latin
  2. Setting aside one day a week or a month as a "Latin Day"--or even designating the day after a test, etc. as Latin Day.
  3. Teaching only in Latin for the first ten minutes of class each day.
  4. Using it to introduce certain class topics.
  5. As a transition between activities or subjects.
So how am I going to use this information in my own classes?  

I think it is important to use Latin as a language.  At times in my teaching career I have spent more or less time tantum Latine depending on the requirements in my position, but I have always found that not only do my students respond better to speaking and learning in Latin, they show better facility with the language when reading and writing after we've spent a significant amount of time speaking and listening. 

And isn't that what we're after?