Wednesday, October 2, 2013

"Good" Technology: Making Personalized Readings with Replace All

There are good and lame uses of technology in foreign language classrooms. To be a "good" use, the technology must facilitate in some way the delivery of comprehensible input. Using movies, images, and audio clips as the basis for personalized, comprehensible discussion in the target language is "good," for example. So is the use of sites like (see this post for more information). I want to describe another use of technology that can help the teacher facilitate reading-based input that's personalized for each class: Replace All.

Replace All is a nifty feature of almost every word processing program that lets you find all instances of a word and replace it with another word. Basically, if you have a story written about a "John" from your first period class, this feature will let you change it to a story written about "Phil" for your second period class in a matter of seconds.

There are three steps to a typical cycle of Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling (TPRS). First, we establish meaning. Then we ask the story with a story script. Finally we read an official, written version of the story together. This "replace all" trick helps with the third step, the reading.

Of course it is best if the reading is personalized for each class. We work so hard during the second step to get a story that means something personal for each individual class that just using a generic reading in the third step seems anticlimactic.

We want unique readings for each class, based on the unique story created by each class, but we don't want to be up late every night writing out stories in the target language. We can use the written version of the story that was done by a student during step 2 as a guide (see this post for more information about student jobs), but even then with six different classes there are just too many stories for the teacher to compile individually into six different readings. The story writer is a super star, but even she or he will make mistakes and as teachers we'll want to embed new vocabulary and include various other conventions of written language in the final, official version for our reading during the third step.

Basically, In TPRS there is this problem: The teacher needs to take responsibility for editing and/or creating up to six different readings in the target language every other week or so. That's where "replace all" comes in.

(I'll talk about first year classes here. I have three first year classes so this procedure lets me get three birds with one stone. I also have two second year classes, but of course these need to be treated separately because their stories are completely different from my first year classes--they are working from different target structures and from a different story script. So I can repeat this process with my second year classes and get another two birds with one stone. So all in all that's five birds with two stones and a great savings of time!)

I like to start by carefully mulling over the best story from the day. From that class's story (and the story writer's work) I create an official, good sounding, final written version. I embed new vocabulary. I include conventions of written communication and all that jazz. Take for example this story ("very-fine" is a fruit drink):

very-fine dedit
quondam Brenden erat in schola. Brenden very-fine habebat.
     Colman quoque erat in schola. Colman very-fine vidit. very-fine Colmanem non delectabat. Colman, postquam very-fine vidit, erat iratus. Colman very-fine bibere non volebat. Colman inquit, “very-fine est stultus.”
     sed Allyson quoque very-fine vidit. very-fine Allysonem delectabat. Allyson inquit, “very-fine est optimus!” Allyson very-fine bibere volebat. sed Allyson very-fine non habebat. eheu!
     Brenden et Allyson erant amici. Brenden Allysoni very-fine dedit. Allyson inquit, “gratias tibi ago, Brenden!”
     tum Allyson very-fine bibit. Allyson, postquam very-fine bibit, erat laeta.

He gave very-fine
A little while ago Brenden was in school. Brenden had very-fine.
     Colman was also in school. Colman saw very-fine. very-fine did not please Colman. Colman, after  he saw very-fine, was mad. Colman didn't want to drink very-fine. Colman said, "very-fine is stupid."
     But Allyson also saw very-fine. very-fine pleased Allyson. Allyson said, "very-fine is the best!" Allyson wanted to drink very-fine. But Allyson didn't have very-fine. Oh no!
     Brenden and Allyson were friends. Brenden gave very-fine to Allyson. Allyson said, "Thanks, Brenden!"
     Then Allyson drank very-fine. Allyson, after she drank very-fine, was happy.

I spend a good amount of time compiling that story, making sure that it's simply written and at the right level for my students to be able to read it fluently.

Now I want to take that story and use it as a basis for the other two stories for my other two Latin 1 classes. They were working with the same script and so came up with something similar, but at least the names are all different and probably the places and maybe it was another drink besides that "very-fine" fruit punch.

If a class was particularly creative I can add in major differences on an individual basis, but those simple changes in proper nouns are very easy to do quickly using "replace all." After you have typed up the final version for one class, all you have to do is press "command+f" (on a Mac) or "control+f" (on a PC). This will activate the "find" feature of whatever word processor you're using. There should be an option not just for "find" but also "replace." If, for example, I tell the computer to "replace all" instances of the word "Brenden" in the example story above with the word "Thomas," I have instantly changed the whole story from Brenden having and giving very-fine to Thomas having and giving very-fine. A few more changes is all it would take for the story to be entirely about another first year class.

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