David Maust on Signing 1

This is a long but super excellent article from our own David Maust. It includes video and discussion of same.

Hi Ben,

I hope you are well! I put up some videos from my class last week on my youtube channel – davidmaustwhittier. This is a new thing for me, but has been a goal this year. I posted the videos to Latin Best Practices a few days ago and wanted to let you know as well, if you want to put it up on the blog. I already got some good responses and questions, which I have included below in case you want to post any of this too as an explanation of some things that are of note in the video. The link for the video playlist is:


Sorry I haven’t been as active on the blog lately, it’s just been a busy couple of weeks. I hope to catch up soon.




Hi all,


Inspired by Dan’s encouragement to put up some more videos and my own goal to try and do this for this year, I posted a couple videos of CI teaching from my classroom. Here you can see how the word walls and cards from Circling with Balls are used.

Posting videos is a new thing for me, and makes me a little self-conscious since I know my teaching is far from perfect and it’s always difficult to watch one’s own mistakes. But I’m trying to remember that our teaching and our students’ learning are all works in progress. I think that sharing both our mistakes and successes is how we can grow most in our profession.
I also always want to describe what CI teaching looks like, but words can’t do it all, so I’m hoping some short videos may explain some things that words cannot. I hope you find them helpful!

Here’s a note I put on the videos that I’ll repeat here:

These first videos from one of my Latin 1 classes show some examples of PQA, or Personal Question and Answer in which I “circle” a target structure by asking questions with the structure in order to get information from the class. I am genuinely interested in what the kids have to say and try to show this in PQA through my emotional reaction. This way we have a real conversation. Kids are supposed to be attentive during this time. They can have nothing on their desks or laps, cannot take notes, must make eye contact with me and should gesture the words (especially when I ask them to by saying “ostendite mihi” — show me).

The information I get during PQA in these clips grows into a mini story. In the first video I use a picture of two of our artists in class who like to draw and we form a story from the pictures they draw. In the second we take Adam’s card, who drew a picture of himself sleeping and make a story with that by asking various questions. This story grew somewhat over about 25 minutes. Eventually we discovered that Adam was sleeping at home and dreaming about Meshuggha (our class gnome) and Cthulhu (a sea monster) who were in Chuck E. Cheese. Meshuggha ate pizza and Cthulhu ate little boys and girls. That was the whole story, and was all suggested by the kids as I asked them for information.

Things to watch for: use of gesturing as a way of engaging the kin-esthetic part of language learning and to encourage participation; student use of non-verbal cues and short verbal cues to respond to help foster participation (i.e. hand over head means “I don’t understand:).

Things I noticed that I need to work on: less English on my part; more comprehension checks (asking students to translate short phrases); demanding more group responses, non-verbal or verbal (yes / no) when I ask the class a question.

Valeatis! David




I used to have the kids come up with the gestures, but just like you said, it became too difficult for me to remember them all.
Now I try to use an ASL (American Sign Language) gesture, but if it is too complicated or doesn’t resonate with the kids, or doesn’t exist, then we make up our own and I only make up one for all classes. It is a big hassle for me to do a different one with each class. I always do the wrong one and it throws everyone off. In the video I am using some ASL and some not. I made this transition to trying to use ASL as the default sign this year.

I really like this online video dictionary for ASL. I have a TA or a kid from the class sit at my desk and they look up a word when I tell them to, so I don’t have to walk over to my desk and get on the computer. Everyone looses focus if I do that. The link is:






A hearty thanks for putting up the videos. I have never seen any videos of Latin TPRS before so it was very nice to see it being put into practice. Your kids (from their voices, at least) seemed quite at ease in the environment and with the amount of Latin being used. How large are these classes? I also loved the way you quickly dealt in English with the kids who were off focus and then switched back to Latin. The comprehension checks in English were great as well. I didn’t think that you were using a lot of English at all (maybe not in comparison to me!) I also liked the use of “Adamus dicit” and also “Adamus dixit” before repeating his answer – sliding in present and past in natural ways and giving them practice with dicere, while also repeating the answer.

The signing stuff is something that I am not particularly great at, and I let the kids do their own signs and ask them to remember them (they do so much more than I). I just don’t want to worry about another level of language. For me, the signs are like looking for derivatives or any other association that will help you remember the word – I always encourage the kids to do so, but whatever works for them is fine by me. More power to you if you can keep the signs straight on top of everything else.

When was this video shot in the school year? I ask only because I am surprised by the all the Latin that you are putting in. The vocabulary you are already working with, with these kids seems really large and complicated to me (though they seem to handle it just fine!). Specifically, I was surprised by “delineat¨ (I had to look it up just to double check that I even knew what it was!), “licet” “necesse” “domi” “conclavi scholari”, and all the infinitives.

Excuse my ignorance, but are you using a text as well or is it all stories of your own creation? It doesn’t surprise me much that the kids can understand that vocabulary, it`s just for me, using Cambridge, I try to use words that I know will come up in Cambridge even if they aren’t perfect equivalents, i.e. “pingit” for “delineat”, “in villa” for “domi”, “delectat” for “placet”. I do it not because they can’t handle the other words, but because in the stories from the book they won’t get practice with them, and I already don’t have time to circle. The same with the infinitives – they don’t come up until the second book, so if I introduced them now, they wouldn’t get as much practice with them. I know they can handle them, and I know they are useful, but…
One last question – it seems like we are skipping the part where you establish meaning with vocabulary (other than the classroom), but are you leaving the vocabulary you are working on that day up on the board somewhere (i.e. dormire placet) for them to see? My kids really need that visual piece that I can laser point to.

Again, thanks so much for putting this up! I hope none of my barrage of questions offended you or seemed critical. I really would like to improve my own technique and you have given me a lot of things to think about.






Thanks so much for posting footage of you in your classroom. For all teachers, this is a big leap out of one’s safety zone, but doing so is also a big leap forward for everyone interested in seeing a Latin CI classroom in action. Thanks, everyone, for responding positively to David, and recognizing how much he’s putting himself out here and feels safe enough in our online community to do so.

This really is the next step in our work as we consider trying out new things in our classes. I encourage anyone interested to post footage of their classroom (as long as they have the permissions–also consider vimeo with a password for privacy) and we will do our best to give supportive constructive comments. I am working on the permissions and logistics parts, but I hope to be recording some of my classes as well.

So thanks again David and everyone for making this such a positive learning experience for us all.




Hi Dave and John,

John, thanks for the encouragement. You’re right, putting up video is a difficult thing and I am appreciative of the positive feedback. Thanks all for this.

Dave, great questions and I’m glad the video was helpful for you. I’ll answer your questions in the order you asked them.

On signing, I really would recommend you to try to use it. I used to use it occasionally, but after doing a late night coaching session with Ben Slavic and John Piazza at NTPRS this summer, was convinced to make it a priority this year. It is well worth it. Not only does it help immensely with establishing meaning – really almost effortlessly by just doing a sign, but it also: slows me down when I speak (going SLOW), it is great for the kinesthetic learners (to use Ben’s words, it makes the language more “visceral” – and therefore the kids are thinking less about it with their conscious brains when I’m talking if they are signing), it clarifies meaning without English, it gives kids a non-disruptive way to participate (I mandate them to sign with them when I give the command “ostendite mihi”) and it is an easy non-English way to clarify meaning. After about a week of using a structure, I feel I can stop signing it, but sometimes I do so anyway. I wouldn’t sign on an oral test though, especially if I want to know if the word itself is acquired rather than just the sign.

This was shot about 19 days into the school year so we had established some vocab already – but I make a conscious effort to keep “in bounds,” speaking only vocab I know they know and introducing anything new very slowly. When I took this video we had been doing about 4 weeks of Circling with Balls and were just doing our first Anne Matava Story that week (Afraid of the Package). I am currently still going through the last of the circling with balls cards just to break up time from stories. The past three weeks I’ve done a story a week (Afraid of the Package- Matava; Come Here- Tripp; Talks Too Much- Matava). This has been a good pace.

The Latin 1 class in the video has about 35 kids at the time it was taken, but has 30 now because some have transferred to my other Latin 1 section because of Athletics conflicts. My larger Latin class now has 41.

Although Cambridge is the textbook I use, I hold off starting it for sometime. Last year I didn’t start the textbook until mid 2nd semester, and completed 7 stages. This year I’m not sure if I will use a textbook in Latin 1. My textbook for Latin 1 is now really Anne Matava’s story scripts and Jim Tripp’s Scripts and some of my own as well as PQA that will develop into stories. The kids seem to respond much better to this kind of CI than textbook stories in my classes. I think this is so because the input is more compelling and because vocabulary is sheltered and grammar isn’t. Textbook sheltering of grammar makes stories sound artificial and I think are inherently less compelling to kids for this reason. Also the kids get blasted with vocabulary and it destroys their confidence when they can’t process it all. The difference I see with starting with 3 structures for a story and only allowing a couple more to come in as they become necessary compared with trying to teach kids a textbook story with 15 new vocabulary words is incredible.

There is just something about the combination of compelling input, sheltered vocab and unsheltered grammar, delivered in a well-disciplined and trained classroom, with a teacher and students who trust each other and care about one another. This is my goal – to foster a classroom like this. There are always imperfections of course, but this is the goal I have for my students and myself.

As far as using structures like placet, necesse est, licet, etc. they will get these in Cambridge at some point, so why not teach them? I like to use placet (rather than delectat) just because it gives a lot more practice with hearing dative forms early on – same with necesse and licet. As long as you are circling slowly, est. meaning well, doing gestures and getting the reps (or some combintion of these), the kids will acquire the structure – there really are in my opinion no structures that are more difficult than others, maybe sentence structures, but not really individual structures.

As far as establishing meaning, you are right, most of what I am doing in these videos is a combination of using some already established vocab and establishing meaning for anything new. You might notice that the kids give me the hand over the head sign with “in conclavi scholari,” so I establish it by typing it up on the projected Word doc. That’s all there really is to establishing meaning for me. Type it up with a translation, make a gesture (usually check the ASL dictionary or make our own) and start using it in PQA or the story.

I’ll try to get a story up soon and I have some footage from my Latin 3 class too.

Ut valeatis,





20 thoughts on “David Maust on Signing 1”

  1. The best thing while waiting for the North East hurricane was watching these videos just now. THANK YOU SO MUCH! David, I really appreciate getting a chance to watch you. Also, thanks for sharing the sign language site. I have been introducing the structures and asking for kids signs but it takes too long and each class has their own so it’s hard for me to remember. High schoolers would probably appreciate just going through that part faster. Enter aslopro.com.

    It’ll be great especially because in one of my classes, a few girls told me at the beginning of the year that they had taken some American Sign Language courses in middle school and really enjoyed it. What fun it will be for them to feel like they’re getting a 2-for-1 deal in my class!

  2. Agreed: thank you very much, David, for posting your videos. I have not yet been able to do Circling with Balls or cards at the beginning of the year (it just isn’t working for me) so seeing your way of going about it is helpful.

  3. Thanks Jennifer and Diane. The signing thing for me has taken on a whole new life this year. Before I saw it as just something to do when establishing meaning before moving on to the “real stuff” of telling the story, but now I see that it accomplishes much more when I use it consistently.

    Mainly, I value it now for the power it has to give kids a way to participate that is NON-VERBAL. At NTPRS this year I was surprised to find out that I wasn’t supposed to even have kids repeat structures after me (i.e. forced production). I knew I wasn’t supposed to expect them to respond in sentences off the top of their heads in the target language, but I didn’t think of repetition as forced production. So my way of having kids participate in the past was repeating structures after me.

    I like signing so much better because it keeps the class quiet and you can feel the acquisition process taking place. It gives kids something to do, but it respects the quiet breaks between my input that needs to be there for acquisition to take place. It also keeps us in the realm of the subconscious, whereas repetition breaks us into the conscious. I had to face it – the oral repetition thing was just hokey and fake-feeling. It felt like you were in school when a teacher says something and everyone else repeats (and school in the 19th century), but signing feels like you’re in a conversation. The kids buy into the signing much more than the repetition (which is forced production of course).

    I also sense that signing gives the kids something to hang on to as well. I see some do it when I’m not prompting and it helps them stop over-thinking things too much. I think signing is for kin-esthetic learners, what word walls are for visual learners and what slow, circling is for auditory learners.

    I also like that signing slows me down naturally. It is also a comprehension check and a mandate for everyone to engage. (I constantly make sure when I see kids starting to check out to bring people back into my focus and eye contact by mandating EVERYONE to show me the sign.)

    I’m probably repeating what I said above, but this has just been such a ground breaking thing for me this year. I even have been introducing signs in my upper level classes for old words that they didn’t all learn well – even the upper level kids like doing the signs.

    Thanks Ben for telling me in our coaching session at NTPRS when I was practicing that you needed some signs to make the Latin words I was speaking become real to you. That was the start of me understanding something new about language acquisition – that signing does something on a visceral and unexplainable level in the mind, body and soul.

  4. Where’s the LIKE button?:

    “I also like that signing slows me down naturally. It is also a comprehension check and a mandate for everyone to engage. (I constantly make sure when I see kids starting to check out to bring people back into my focus and eye contact by mandating EVERYONE to show me the sign.)”

  5. I too want to thank Ben for the late night coaching session at NTPRS (also, props to Sabrina who stayed up with us and had to hear a lot of CI Latin reps!). Great work David, that night, and what you are writing and posting here. I hope to peruse it all in more detail, and offer more of a response.

    1. John and David,

      I remember that evening very well b/c the three of us ( John, Ben and I, ) were so determined to coach David that we ended up sitting on the floor in one of the hallways in the hotel since we couldn’t find an open room. And we stayed there for a couple of hours, and my bones were achy but it was so much fun to watch David and help him figure out stuff and coach him. David was so brave and vulnerable. This was eye awakening for me, and I acquired some Latin which I was able to recognize in this awesome video ( yeah!). David you rock!!! Thank you for doing this for all of us, so we can learn with you and from you.
      David, that night in Las Vegas was only three months ago. You were so full of uncertainties and self-doubts about your techniques. And look at you now, you have blossomed into this awesome teacher ! I really enjoyed watching you!
      I think one of the lessons we take from watching you David lies in the incredible power of signing.
      Like everyone else commenting on this stuff, I too ask my kids to find a gesture and sign in at the beginning of PQA and sometimes in the story. Because each class picks different gestures, I rely on the kids to show me what those gestures are, and if I don’t demand gesturing from them, they just won’t do it or forget about it. I think it is b/c it’ s one more thing for them to do, and either they are forgetful, lazy or self-conscious.
      But my learning from watching you David (and thank you for this!) is I’ m going to incorporate this into my rubric and demand they do it, and not just occasionnally.
      Great job David!

  6. Thanks so much Sabrina! I appreciate your kind words and encouragement! It’s hard to believe that NTPRS wasn’t that long ago. And you’re right about that coaching session. There were some serious physical obstacles that we had to contend with – sitting on the floor, the cold air, a legal pad for a whiteboard, and fatigue since we went long and it was around midnight if I remember correctly.

    That was not an easy experience for me – I felt like I was doing everything all wrong, trying to connect the words with you, Ben and John, but you all were so patient and honest, and in the midst of needing something tangible to hold onto you and Ben needed signs (John knew the Latin already). And signing really came to the rescue in that moment.

    There was another thing that helped too: I recall Ben making the comment at one point that he needed me to just give him more attention and he got cranky because I started talking about him at one point (with PQA) and then moved onto either you or John too fast. He said something to the effect of – hey you started giving me attention and now you’re moving on?!? There may have been some stronger language too – I don’t remember.

    Our poor learning conditions that night helped us out. There’s something visceral about just needing attention and a tangible way to interact with another when you don’t have common language. I was looking around on some ASL websites tonight and noticed a comment that said something to the effect of: “The importance of facial expression when signing.” Wow. There is something about my facial expression alone that will make acquisition happen. Yes, I know that is true; that’s how the brain and soul work together.

    And that’s how I suspect my kids feel in class feel about all this too. And that’s how really important it is that I give them not only signs so their body can respond when they don’t yet have words, but that I give them also the attention and expression they need to feel valued, human and loved. I’ve seen some other comments on the PLC lately that are in essence the same thing – we are dealing with some raw and powerful stuff here.

    1. “hey you started giving me attention and now you’re moving on?!?”

      I remember that too, and it really resonated with me and my teaching. Thanks to Ben’s perspective, by the end of NTPRS, in the practice and demo sessions, I had moved beyond the method and the content and was thinking from an emotional perspective: how is this making me feel as an insecure student? Being honest about my emotional reactions during the sessions really was a huge step for me, and I think people who don’t get that, will just think we’re wasting time and not teaching our students anything, because they have no awareness of that emotional level which is really what determines whether or not acquisition happens.

    2. …there is something about my facial expression alone that will make acquisition happen….

      Ok that’s deep. I am thinking we are talking about something far beyond mere teaching here as the old definition of imparting information. I think that with the facial expression piece added to the actual signing we are into a kind of loving life thing. And – in my view of teaching – without joy there is nothing but robotic processing – I really don’t think languages cannot be acquired without some degree of en-joy-ment. Language is a huge piece of our ability to enjoy life in the first place. That is why this new model for teaching isn’t for everyone. Many teachers whose way of working was based on intimidation and choosing certain favorite students over others, who weren’t good enough, did not impart joy to their students – far from it. That is why I believe in this work so much because I believe that mankind is now in the midst of changing from being miserable to being happy. It just looks bad. It isn’t. It’s like the world is taking a big shit. It’s a mess when it happens but it makes it all better. It’s hard to express but the facial expression, I am guessing here, just seems to have something about bringing joy and life and positive energy into the discussion, into the signing, into the words, into everything. Have you ever seen that in the face of an accomplished sign language interpretor in the midst of their work. They just seem to be so positively into it. I want to be that way, but adding in that piece seems like it is beyond my sorry self. Wow is this thread big. Dang, Maust! You be trippin’.

  7. Thanks David for your videos… great to see your classroom and your teaching!

    Here is another great ASL website. http://lifeprint.com/

    Signing is soooooo important, I know it, and the funny thing is, it’s one thing my students consistently point out as something I do that helps them learn. And they agree with me, that if we’re doing some gestures/signs, they might as well be the real signs for our non-verbal language here in the U.S.

  8. Thanks Jim. I just found that site last night when I was looking for some more ASL resources. I’m loving your story scripts this year too. I’ve done “Come Here!” and today we did a version of “Halloween.” Thanks so much!

    1. Dear David,

      I don’t know if you’ll see this post but since I don’t have your personal email, I’ll attempt it anyways.
      I just want to thank you again for posting your video and getting that discussion going a little while ago on this signing thing.
      By the way, do you remember Gerry Wass at NTPRS this year? He did a session on signing called signing on or signing off. Although I attended , I just don’t remember any of it. I think my mind was elsewhere. I wish I did remember though because he is a very intelligent man and in light of what I am about to discuss here, it could come in handy, but I just don’t remember. Oh well, if any of you do, can you refresh my memory?
      In any case, because of you and your video and this discussion, I started something new in my classroom so I thought I ‘d share.
      It is a new job for me, which I have called the sign in interpreter.
      Have you ever watched a UN session (or else) on TV with sign language interpreters for the hearing impaired? I am sure you have seen them but really watching them and trying to understand is kinda cool to watch. Anyway I keep this job for a kid whose learning style is bodily-kinesthetic.
      It’ s a trial and error as I had a couple of kids chosen for the job who were terrible at it although they said their learning style was bodily-kinesthetic. So they got replaced , and that was OK with them.
      So the sign in interpreter stands in a corner of the room (away from the actors when we do the story), and he/she signs in, all the time, everything we do. So whether we do PQA, co-create a story, reading or else, that person is always in front of the room, signing whatever we do. I too sign in if and when I remember, and the rest of the class may as well, but that person’s job is primarily to keep signing the class chosen gestures for the structures, whatever is being said or read. It is great as we keep on recycling gestures from this year and last and they remember them all! I just love it! I asked the kids if it helped them and they said yes. I figure if it helps even only a few, I take it as a positive. The way I look at it is, it’s just one more way to get comprehension across. So we have the auditory piece coming from me mainly, the visual stuff on the overhead and from watching the sign in interpreter, and the kinesthetic piece coming out of that person.
      One thing I observed with one French 2 class I have is that the sign in interpreter for that class is acquiring French now whereas she wasn’t before. So it could be the fact she has a job, or that since she is a kinesthetic learner this is helping her. Unsure as to why but I’ll take her success without a doubt and try to attribute it to taking chances. Her learning curve has increased tremendously and I am super happy.
      I’ll have to see if it is sustainable, not just for her but for all my classes.
      In another class I am still searching for the right person for that job, it is trial and error just like with anything else.
      I have one class of 8th grader where I am amazed with the outcome. I have forgotten a couple of times to call the person in to do her job, and the class is eager to remind me to bring her in and perform her job. This class is just awesome, speaking so much French all of he time that I want to cry everyday with them, but the sign in person is absolutely rocking the room, adding so much more. I thought I had to share. This wouldn’t have happened had you not started this conversation David, so I have to say it again: THANK YOU!

    1. I know what you mean as I have felt that too. What happens is it makes me slow down even more as I keep on checking how the signer is doing.

  9. If it works, in the sense where it makes us slow down so the signer can keep up, it’s a potential gold mine for the kids. I just never made it work for me in reading (they have to have their focus on the words of the text and the signer as well) but I never tried it in stories. Plus, it takes the right kid to do it. Looking forward to hearing how this works for others.

  10. That interchange just hit the nail on the head: Our default is to think that something that “slows us down” is a bad thing, but it will in fact increase comprehension by 1) providing more and varied CI, and 2)slowing us down.

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