Wednesday, July 11, 2018

LLI 2018 Presentation Materials

I'm now three years into development of a patent-pending, formative-feedback device for writers of English.  Although a server failure one hour before my presentation prevented the interactive prototype demonstration I had planned, below are links to other parts of the presentation I gave yesterday at LLI Memphis 2018.

English Teacher Survey Results:

Fuller Survey Results (not shared yesterday):

Presentation Outline:
(Warning: If you were there, you know I digressed a LOT, so this outline is nowhere near complete!)

For those new to what I do, feel free to skim the earlier entries on this blog.  For more information on my earlier foreign-language app, Linguachet (which I'm taking down for the summer to comply with E.U. data laws), see the Teachers page at

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Videoactive Language Learning

 What is videoactive language learning?

You can have students watching, listening, reading, and writing in your language at the same time.  You get instant results and grade nothing. Students also get instant highlighting of their responses so they can self correct, and you get a dashboard of learning process data to help you spot issues and tweak instruction on the fly.
Play a videoactive exercise in Latin.
Play a videoactive exercise in Spanish.

Cool!  How do I make one of these?

Start with almost any youTube video in your language.  Add some some simple questions and answers about the video in your langauge.  Tell Linguachet where to start and stop the video for each question.  You can even mix parts of different any order.  This video walks you through it!

Monday, July 6, 2015

Thank you! Here's what's next!

First, I'd like to thank everyone who visited the Linguachet's booth at the American Classical League Institute last weekend.  Good ideas were flowing everywhere, and your enthusiasm was highly contagious!  I have nothing much left to give away but a grateful grin!

I'd also like to thank everyone who played Linguachet throughout 2014-15.  We saw logins from as far away as the Middle East.  We saw students playing on their own during school breaks and during major sporting events.  Some of you reported your students cheering, fist-pumping and high-fiving in class, and one 8th grade student fired off 3700 Latin sentences, mastering all Latin I grammar concepts... in 38 days.

After a few days of upgrades, I'll be reopening Linguachet for 2015-2016 school year...and it will be
FREE for 2015-2016!  That's so you can get busy with building your own Linguachet content with Linguachet Scribe.  Custom content was the number one teacher request I received last year, and several of you expressed interest this weekend in getting started.  If you're a current Linguachet teacher or have signed up for my mailing list, I'll shoot you an email when it's ready.
Latin teachers, head down the hall and tell your French and Spanish colleagues; they are going to be welcome as well.

Let's make this the best year ever!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

For Non-Techies: Why (Some) Teachers Need To Code

Being a teacher involves a person in so many circles of conversation.   I find myself talking with students about what they see, what they understand, and what is and is not helping them learn.  With parents, conversations can move quickly from a specific grade or assignment to patterns of behavior to the hopes and dreams they have for their child, the place where we usually find our common ground.  With other teachers, professional conversations often revolve around what we're experiencing, what we're trying, what seems to be working, and why.  Each conversation involves a sharing of hope and aspiration, fear and frustration, usually with the underlying purpose of making it better.

Teachers are some of the most solution-oriented people I know; most of them are idea factories!  Thought Latin was boring?  Voila!  Witness a Latin course as an RPG, progressive online readings with audio, a video series, or a website...all created by teachers!  In my case, all of the aforementioned conversations and experiences continually cross-pollinate in my head, creating new ideas.  Some of these eventually take shape in computer code, but almost all of them are really about learning.  Apart from learning, technology loses much of its interest, at least for me.  I think this is because the human mind is more plastic, the human heart more dynamic than any static technology I can find on Earth.  Computers are cool, but humans are COOL!  We actually need and seek out challenges, our brains are constantly rewiring themselves to meet them, we tremble with a hope fragile yet resurgent, and we're powered by love.  And at the core of it, love is what teaching seems to be.  For this very same reason, I always feel like I am only beginning the journey.

Like most teachers, I want to make learning better.  Beyond my own children and my classroom, I want to reach out to people I will never meet and help them help themselves experience new possibilities.  When I'm wiring up an interface or indexing a database, I'm not coding because I like to code.  Often I really don't!  I'm coding because I want to help somebody learn.  As with lesson planning, I want to help engineer a piece of the learning experience from frustration to flow because I see needs staring me in the face, tools sitting in my hands, a clear vision in my head, and the right time at hand.  Like most teachers I know, I work hard not only to support my family, but because I cannot see the vision realized quickly enough, and because - partly through all those conversations - that vision is constantly growing! I know how learning energizes me, I know what joy and flow feel like, and I want others to feel them too.  It won't simply help students learn.  It will extend their horizon of what is possible to learn joyfully.

My own most recent app is for teachers not just because I am one, but because teachers make learning better.  If I can make a teacher's life easier or better, if I can make some of her "if-onlys" come true, he or she will take that time and energy and love students better.  It might be more differentiated instruction or assessment than was possible before.  It might be a little extra individual feedback where she now has an extra ten minutes she would have spent grading sentences.  It might be a quick glance at student process data before class that reveals students' frustration points and reshapes that day's lesson.  The teacher will know what to do, she will do it her way, and it will be awesome! 

I am a tiny piece of this puzzle, a larger professional conversation, but with abilities and drives that intersect each other in peculiar ways that cannot be accidental.  You are every bit the same.  Let's keep that conversation going, and let's make it better!

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Eugepae! Eamus!

Magistri et Magistrae,

Salvete!  The most frequent Linguachet question I hear is no surprise to any of us:  

Can I write my own sentences for my classes?

Now the answer is yes.  Over the past year, I built a new teacher webapp., Linguachet Scribe, which is now useful in beta.  Use your Linguachet teacher username and password to log in.  Don't have one of those yet?  Click here for directions.

To shorten the learning curve, it's built like the original Linguachet app., with many new teacher features.  (If Linguachet is new to you, start with the two-minute video overview here.) 

  • Build your own courses and units.  
  • Team up with up to two other Linguachet Latin teachers to build each course. 
  • Write your own sentences...two different ways!*
  • Add additional vocabulary specific to each of your courses.
  • Make changes to a sentence, then try it yourself with one click.

Drop your new course into one or more of your classes.  Then your students can log into the regular Linguachet app. and try your sentences.  A six-minute how-to screencast walks you through the basics here.  

The tabs and buttons cover the basics, but there are more subtle features as well.   I'll use your questions to post a how-to screencast in a few days.   Because it's a webapp.,  I can fix bugs and sneak in more cool new features by night without your noticing.  (Bwahaha!)

Go crazy until June 20th.   Please respect copyright and be original.  You're all originals anyway.  This should be fun!

Eugepae!  Eamus!

*To see helpful example sentences, select "Universal Latin 1" and click to edit.  It won't let you save changes there, but it WILL give you ideas you can use right away!

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Daddy's Big Girl Tackles Latin

Don't you dare call her little.  She will set you straight, stomping her foot if necessary.

This wasn't my idea either, at least not for her, and not at the time. Yesterday was a lazy day at home for the Rietz clan.  We are fairly
Christmas Eve
industrious slobs, though; after a couple of bike rides my middle guy was mastering the GoPro camera given him by relatives, my oldest was managing a virtual soccer team, and my daughter was lying on the couch next to me, weaving with her new rainbow loom.  I was on my laptop debugging code.

Although I don't push it too hard, my kids are no strangers to what I do.  My older kids have both played in Linguachet, and several years ago my middle guy (who was 8) actually helped inspire the vocab and forms tabs by the questions he asked me as he worked.  My oldest, who is quite good at graphic design, created my current business cards.  When my daughter asked me today if she could play Linguachet, it didn't surprise me.

She is seven, though.  She's a very good speller, but - like all second graders - she's still learning.  She really just picked up cursive in the last couple of weeks.  She's curious and quick as a whip, but she changes her mind just as quickly.  I certainly didn't picture her composing full sentences in Latin.  I handed her an iPad with a smile, figuring this little experiment would last five minutes at most.

What happened next floored me.  It's exactly what was supposed to happen.  She started typing, looking up almost every word at first.  She's still a hunt-and-peck typist; it still takes her a couple of seconds to find letters like "P".  She didn't whine. She asked questions. She didn't quit.  She fixed all her mistakes.  She celebrated.  She did the first unit.

I figured surely it was time to lighten up...or at least vary the approach before she burned out!  We went outside and threw a "pila" to each other. As we threw, I called the play-by-play in simple, repetitive Latin.  She got cold. She came back in.  She asked to do more Linguachet.

She redid the first unit.  She started the second.

I pulled out Oerberg's Lingua Latina and a globe.  She translated that first page, her confidence surging.  After that she reached for my copy of Cattus Pettasatus. Obviously that wasn't so easy AT ALL, but not being able to do that didn't seem to discourage her at all either.  She went back to Linguachet.

At dinner, I told her that words are fossils.  She immediately started splitting up words she knew.

I took a walk around the front yard with my oldest.  I was worried she'd get frustrated and quit, but I also think kids need space to learn to manage their frustrations. I fully expected to return and find her watching a cartoon, and I would have been fine with that. 

I returned to find her typing Latin. 
Minecraft and Disney get turned down for what!?

At bedtime we often read a Bible story together.  On a whim, I pulled out the Latin Vulgate, reading in Latin from Luke 3, a story she had heard in church - in English - a couple of nights before.  She looked over my shoulder and picked out Latin words she had seen and used throughout the afternoon: "et", "est", "sunt".  Others, like "angeli" she easily picked out from context.

I attach no ongoing expectations here. Today is a new day.  However, as I was first typing that sentence, my daughter woke up walked into my room.  She didn't say good morning.  She asked to play more Linguachet. ;-)

Friday, December 5, 2014

Keeping the Love of Latin Alive...During Exam Prep.?

Exams can mark a nerve-wracking time for all of us.  Younger students (I teach middle school.) need
Blechhhy, Wikimedia
to be walked through their studying more than older ones do.  For years I simply gave a nonstop regimen of quizzes the two weeks before an exam.  They did help measurably, but no one could describe the process as engaging, and it certainly did little to foster the love of Latin!  Sure we sang a bit too, but we had a lot to cover, and one aspires to more than chocolate-covered broccoli, right?

Then I stumbled upon the idea of review via composition.  At first, I was thinking of efficiency, not passion.  I could hit all of the grammar (and much of the vocabulary) in ten to twenty carefully-written Latin sentences.  This did seem to be more authentically challenging, and it actually did work well for my top students.  

My struggling students, though, could get overwhelmed as they self-corrected that action-packed page.  It was too much feedback for them to take in all at once, and there was nothing they could immediately do with that onslaught of information... except hope to do better next time!

Doing this in Linguachet did improve things a good bit:  students got specific immediate feedback as they were working. They could learn from their mistakes. Furthermore, that immediate feedback

really motivated them...even when I was simply grading completion!  

For highly challenging, cumulative exercises, though, this motivation occasionally became a bit of a problem: struggling students struggled too hard, and occasionally I would find an exercise 1/2 done to total perfection with a massive amount of time expended.

From talking with my students through this process, I began to realize that - for many of them - making more than 10 attempts per question often amounted to brute-force hacking.  Formative feedback drew them deeply into battle, but - in certain situations - Pyhrric victories were more likely to result than meaningful learning.  Ironically, I had built Linguachet partly to enable differentiation, but seeing my own students' learning data from it was what fully convinced me.  Students' attention and effort are precious, limited resources, and I had to start learning to steward them.  This may even be more true during exams, when many students also need to catch up!

From there, I began to watch Linguachet's results tab data differently.  My goals began to change: from getting everyone through the same work to keeping each student in a state of flow so he or she could progress.  Armed with live data and plenty of ready choices, I began to improvise differentiation a bit.  I began encouraging certain students to use the skip button, not to avoid challenges but to select just a few of them.   I began to experiment with assigning the concept-dense review exercises to my strongest students while targeting concept-specific units for the struggling ones.  I also experimented with self-prescription, having students look at a recent test and choose 3 weak areas to target in Linguachet.  Knowing the homework was targeted to help them individually did put more of the focus on learning for some.

Everybody loves a Cinderella ending.  All my C students became A students.  That didn't happen.  Writing 12 sentences doesn't make every single vocabulary word magically stick either, but it definitely helps with grammar.  My steps were tentative.  I still gave the same exams.
What else happened, though, was far, far cooler in its own way.  More of my students began to get the idea that they could DO Latin.  Some started working ahead in Linguachet.  One first-semester Latin student, in the peak season of exam stress, decided to translate "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" into Latin, frame it, and present it to me for Christmas.  In January, my Latin students crashed their school's talent show by performing "Free Bird" Latin.  On at least one occasion, my assigning Linguachet homework was met with a classroom of...cheers?

I still don't believe in a holy grail of education.  My classroom has often been a lab but never a test tube.  I was simultaneously experimenting with oral Latin, embedded stories, comprehensible input, and TPRS, and I think all of these things buoyed students' enthusiasm.  My students were also watching ME risk, improvise, and learn, which probably added to the energy.  Perhaps anything that makes you risk, improvise, and learn from your mistakes is going to catalyze a growth mindset.  I hope that Linguachet will do that for a lot of students...even during exams...perhaps especially during exams!