Communicative Context in the Classroom.

As the year winds down I’m ready for some time to reflect.  Overall this has been a fantastic year.  There have been struggles and celebrations like any other year.  But this year, I have provided more input for all levels of students than any other year.  I’ve noticed a lot of posts on different social media teacher groups about teachers who feel they have failed this year as they begin a journey toward CI.  I’ve had some failures this year, but what I’m realizing as I reflect is that I had a lot of “failures” as a legacy teacher before switching to an input mentality if I’m being honest with myself.

The most difficult class for me this year has been centered around community and classroom management struggles, yet their are many students in that group who demonstrate that they’ve acquired quite a bit of Latin when they write.  2 years ago, not many of my students were able to write much for communication in Latin.  This year a Latin 1 student has been writing stories for fun in study hall, and level 1 and 2 students are writing 100+ word Latin writings in 10 minute writing sessions.  They have errors, but some of the writings have thoughtful and deep messages.  Some of them are using structures they’ve acquired during self directed reading.

Each Spring my Latin 4/AP class ends the year with a mock trial by putting Aeneas on trial for events that happened in the Aeneid, mostly in book 4.  I have always struggled with figuring out a way to engage kids in this trial in Latin and from the Latin text.  As our trial started today, each set of lawyers give their speeches with openings in Latin and I was able to understand them fairly well.  They produced much more understandable Latin than any group I’ve had before.  A lot of it was probably at the intermediate low level, but it was original and connected to the related passages.

Acquisition is happening in my classroom, but it is messy.  Sometimes, there are obstructions to acquisition.  Sometimes those obstructions come from students, but many times those obstructions are my fault.  We must create communicative context in the classroom.  It’s easy to say that must include compelling and interesting input.  And that IS the goal, but sometimes communicative context needs to be created with rules and routines.  I need to be better at that.

We must remember in this work that we are working with teenagers, many of whom are checking off a language box for their graduation plan so that they do not have to take a language at the next level.  That system in itself is an obstruction to communicative context.  Our goal isn’t centered around checking off boxes.  Our goal has become centered around students and communicative context.

What is communicative context structured around in your classroom?  What are the obstructions?  We grow when we are honest with ourselves about these obstacles.  I enjoy building relationships with students.  I enjoy continuing to create Latin content for my classes.  But when those 2 things are not working for me, my weakness is that I’ve tried to plan myself out of the obstructions instead of taking a step back and reflecting on the obstructions and what my role is when they happen.

Many students in American schools do not want to take a foreign language, let alone Latin.  That is not a dig at them, but an observation centered around the current cultural context.  But even so, they choose to take a language for many different reasons.  They choose to enter my classroom.  They choose to enter the communicative context that I facilitate.  Sometimes, communicating those expectations is more important than what we might read about the next day.

As the year winds down I need to process a few things so that I can facilitate a better communicative context.  Here are some routines and processes that I will consider for myself to grow.  What areas can you consider?

  • Aligning my Daily Engagement Assessment expectations closer to our student handbook.  Specifically with the use of personal electronic devices and how students respond when I ask them to do something.  Our handbook states clear consequences when a student does not comply with something reasonable from a teacher.  I no longer assign a grade to DEA so I simply need to communicate the handbook rules and what my process will be when students do not comply.
  • Developing a routine daily intrapersonal proficiency rubric and grade.  Students connect this to behavior.  They are not completely wrong, but many of our language learning standards are centered around behaviors.  I can read in Latin; I can understand what I hear; these are centered around behaviors.  I need to do a better job of communicating the expectations for students within the classroom context.
  • Offering students more variety for response to language.  I think for me this will start to look like a cycle of instruction similar to things that Ben Slavic and Tina Hargaden have developed.

But all of these things are now centered around creating a communicative context to facilitate comprehensible input.  As you reflect, remember that an input based classroom isn’t centered on students checking off boxes developed by the teacher.  It is centered on acquisition and acquisition is messy.  Were are the spots that we can guide the mess toward communicative context?

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