When I first got interested in Comprehensible Input, my main barrier was that I couldn't figure out "how to do it." Don't get me wrong, I was absolutely able to pick cool activities to try (Keith Toda's blog is an absolute treasure trove). And I would love those activities and want to do more. But I didn't see how I could turn all of that cool stuff into a cohesive way of planning lessons that made actual sense.
At Parkview, we are "untextbooked," which means everything we do in the classroom is really up to us. When I was first preparing to enter the untextbooked life, I was anxious about it. But now that I see how simple it is, I'm not sure I could go back to the way things were before. Here is how I understand things at this point in my career as a CI teacher:
Essentially, no matter what kind of CI teacher you want to be, you will end up planning in a cycle that has three phases: pre-reading, reading, and post-reading. You will notice that each phase contains the word "reading," and I think that's because all Latin teachers, no matter their teaching philosophy, want to help their students read Latin as the primary goal. We speak, hear, read, and write Latin on a regular basis in my classes, but I truly feel my work is "working" when I can hand students a text in Latin and they just read it. Let's talk about the pattern I currently follow to help make that happen.
This is the part where you prepare your students to read the next text you have chosen for them. I have so many fond yet oddly traumatic memories of going home from Latin class (especially in college) to try to crack a text I had never seen before, and possibly was not familiar with at all. I take a different approach in my own teaching—by the time my students encounter our next story, they are ready for it, because I have made sure of that.
How do you ensure that students are prepared to read? You teach the vocabulary that they need to know. Rather than follow a grammar syllabus, my current program carefully tracks the vocabulary we have taught and would like to teach to our students. To create pre-reading activities, we look at the story we're about to read, sift out the vocabulary and phrases we want students to work on, and then start targeting those words and phrases so that they already look familiar by the time they show up in story form. This week my Latin 1 students read indirect statements like they were nothing, because for them it was just a matter of recognizing phrases they had been hearing in class for the last few days.
How long does the pre-reading phase take? The annoying answer is, "as long as you need it to." Generally though, I will spend 2-ish days doing pre-reading, unless my students are showing clear signs that we need to slow down.
This is the part where you actually read the text! There are a lot of ways to approach this. Students should read and reread as a class, alone, and with partners. However else this phase looks, it should look like reading. Again, take the time you need, but reading a new story in my class typically takes 1-2 days.
This is the part where we sum up what we've read and I do my best to make sure students actually understand before we move on. Post-reading activities can look like review games, especially on Fridays, but they can also push students to engage deeply with the material. If your students have read a text and read it well, then they should also be ready to make inferences, draw connections between the story and other things they have read, and possibly use the story to learn more about Roman culture. Again, take the time you need—I routinely extend post-reading when it becomes clear that my students need a little more time to absorb new information. But in practice, this typically takes 1-2 days of class time.
As you might have noticed, each phase of my lesson planning cycle—pre-reading, reading, and post-reading—takes up a day or two of class time. In other words, we get through roughly one new story per week, and we are almost guaranteed to introduce a new story every other week. Rather than focus on what grammar we need to teach, our CI program leads students from story to story, in an unending chain of reading prep, reading, and digesting what we have read. Once you fall into that rhythm, the next big "issue" is keeping activities varied so that you and the students don't get bored.
I intend to expand on all of this in future posts, and to include examples of my actual lesson plans (with stories and activities!) so you can see exactly what I did, and possibly try it out yourself. But it really does just boil down to this: choose a text, prep it, read it, and review it. That untextbooked life wasn't so complicated after all!
I just made a quick story listening video for my students to use, and it seemed like the perfect moment to share it with all of you, too! Story listening is a great way to help introduce students to a text that you're about to read, but that the students haven't actually encountered yet. I learned this way of doing it from my colleague, Keith Toda.
So, you ask, how does Story Listening work? It's surprisingly simple. You tell a story in Latin (or another target language of choice). Do this very slowly. And while you do it, draw illustrations to go along with it. Stop to check for meaning with your students, take breaks, and repeat parts of the story as needed.
It's a bit of work for you, but your students should do the work right along with you! I ask my students to get out their own paper and writing utensils and create their own versions of my drawings along with me. I usually collect the drawings when we're done (although I rarely grade them, shhh), and I often pass them back several days later when we are about to do a free write so that students have a visual reminder of the story events they're being asked to write about.
The hardest part of Story Listening is probably getting over your own insecurities. As you'll see in the example video below, my drawings are terrible. My handwriting is questionable. I probably made mistakes I am not even aware of. But guess what? It doesn't matter! This is just a prep activity to help get your students ready to read later in the week! Also, this activity always gets a response. You might see it as my students roasting me for horrible art, but I just call it engagement. ;)
If you want to see what story listening looks like, check out my video, linked below. I will probably do this live on the board in class tomorrow, but I like to make videos for students who were not in class, especially right now. This is part of the next chapter of my retelling of The Golden Ass. (I am trying to time Cupid and Psyche so it lines up with Valentine's Day!) Enjoy!
Most Latin teachers who commit to using Comprehensible Input have been on some sort of journey to get to that point. That is certainly true for me. I didn't discover Latin until I was a junior at a Texas high school, and it absolutely changed my life. I will forever have a soft spot for the Cambridge Latin Course because I loved learning from it so much. My parents had thought I would major in something more practical, like political science or international relations. But it was not to be!
I initially thought that I would go into academia. I absolutely loved studying Latin and Greek in college, and I eventually added Coptic and went on to write a dissertation about Shenoute of Atripe, the most ornery Egyptian monk I have ever encountered. I loved research, and I miss it to this day. But I also took a long look at the academic job market and knew things weren't looking good. On top of that, I taught a Greek class by myself for the first time, and while I didn't start out as a very good teacher, I got a lot better--and I learned to love teaching by the end of the year. So much so that I could see myself doing it full time.
Unsure of how I could transform a Ph.D. in Ancient Christianity into a teaching license, I applied to Teach for America. I was originally assigned to teach Language Arts in St. Louis, but due to a hiring crisis, I ended up teaching Special Education in Durham, NC. For my first year, I co-taught English and Math classes and helped a caseload of students get support in the classroom and reach their academic goals. The next year, I started a Latin program at my placement school.
By then, I knew I wanted to have a Latin classroom that was welcoming to all of my students, with all backgrounds and ability levels. While I may have gotten a kick out of discovering the wonders of the ablative absolute back in my day, my students were not ready to board the grammar train. And yet, I wanted them to learn and enjoy Latin. Cue the desperate internet search that led me to an entire online community of Latin teachers using CI, or Comprehensible Input, to make Latin an enjoyable experience for everyone. While I did not totally make the change from the Reading Method at that time (I really do have a sentimental attachment to the CLC), I did start to incorporate activities and techniques that completely dominate my classroom today.
After moving to Atlanta to teach at a private school, I realized that my desire to learn how to teach with Comprehensible Input was not something I could ignore anymore. So when a position opened up at Parkview High School in Lilburn, where there is a very large CI Latin program, I did everything I could to get there. And here I am! I am a better teacher than I've ever been, working with the best colleagues anyone could ask for.
If you're interested in teaching with Comprehensible Input and you don't know how to get started, don't worry--I had the exact same problem before I came to Parkview. But I've been a CI Latin teacher for three years now, and I finally feel ready to comment on my experiences. Now I'll be sharing what I've learned with you!