TQ: My Brother’s Teacher

As we continue to work with Where Are Your Keys? in the classroom, there are certain things which we need to consider. Remember that WAYK was developed based on an informal, community model, with varying numbers of people, of different skill levels coming together. When we bring WAYK into the school setting, we are faced with issues such as grading, classroom management, and students with special learning needs, among many others. These present us certain challenges, but we can nonetheless approach these elements with a WAYK mindset, and hopefully come up with some creative and innovative new ideas in the process.

One of the most important core Techniques in WAYK is TQ:Angel On Your Shoulder. This is more than a simple rule like TQ:Slow Down, a concrete pedagogical trick. TQ:Angel… represents a change in how we think about learning, from a teacher-led model (often referred to as “sage on the stage”) to a collaborative model, with the teacher as a coach of a team of language learners (“guide on the side”). This depends to a certain extent on a sense of community in the language learning environment. It requires trust between participants, patience, and a willingness to correct and be corrected. In the context of language revitalization, there is likely to be a certain sense of community already established. While the community might not be strong, everyone there at least has a common purpose. In the classroom, however, and in particular in a level 1 class, this sense of community is almost non-existent. In my school I deal with students of all different grades and ability levels, who are taking Latin for a variety of reasons. Not only is there not an agreed upon common purpose, students may be strangers to one another.

TQ:Angel… is one of the rules that I have struggled most with in my classes. For the time being (and in the immediate foreseeable future), students are not yet prepared for the type of trusting, collaborative learning we are asking of them. In addition, there is a monitoring aspect to Angels (“I’ve got your back”) that I think is a Sorry Charlie for students.

Sometimes we find ourselves unable to make progress in certain avenues, because we become stuck in certain mindsets. And, sometimes, there are simple tricks which can free us from these fixations. In my case, it may be as simple as calling a Technique by a different name. In order to create the sense of community in my classroom that TQ:Angel… requires, I need to step back to something a little more basic – just getting students to teach one-another.

I’ve started simply. I prepared a set of six vocabulary items that I wanted students to learn (in this case, types of weather), and the relevant question (“Qualis tempestas est?”). Standard operating procedure would be to run through a set of Power Points, doing snap drills, with lots of repetition. Students would learn the first few words well, then get bored by the time we reached the end. As part of my experiment, I put all of the information in the hands of students, and forced them to teach one-another. I printed all the vocabulary information on cards. Some cards had the vocabulary spelled out on them, others had pictures representing the vocabulary. A letter on each card connected the picture to the Latin, and there were more picture cards than vocabulary cards. I was intentionally vague with my instructions, beyond simply “Latine tantum.”

As would be expected, things started slowly. Students weren’t quite sure what to do. Eventually they figured out how to match the cards up by letter, and start going around the room teaching one another. Once the question started to work its way through the crowd, pointing and saying “Quid est?” became pointing and saying “Qualis tempestas est?” What’s more, some students started gathering groups around them, pointing to students in turn, and making them repeat one after the other, in essence taking on the teacher mantle. I couldn’t have been happier. With very little to no instruction, I had been able to effect what I couldn’t do with the lotus game, with this many students.

There are a number of things that I like about this activity.

1 – Rather than running through the words in order, over-working some vocabulary, and losing students by the end, they picked up all the vocabulary at once, with random repetition (after repeating the experiment with more vocabulary, students indicated that seven items is a good target number; eleven was too many).

2 – Even weaker students can become experts in at least one word, and then circulate the room teaching everyone else, while learning the other vocabulary.

3 – This activity forces students to be self-sufficient, and stop seeing me as the sole source of information. I made this explicitly clear in our debrief.

There is still much development to do in this arena. Keeping thirty students on task, in an intentionally “loose” environment remains a challenge. I’d also like to come up with setups that allow me to apply this model to grammar concepts, and not just vocabulary. All of that said, I’m pleased with the initial results, and feel somewhat invigorated and more motivated to continue to experiment.

Give this activity a try, tweak it a bit, and let me know what you come up with.

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