Monthly Archives: August 2016

What's in our bags?

As a new school year gets underway, we, the editors of the CANE Blog, would like to introduce ourselves and give you a sneak peak into the tools we find useful for a new year.

Gabriel Bakale

Onward, to my thirteenth year of teaching Latin here in Massachusetts.  I’ve been at the same public high school for my entire career, and, despite the occasional setback (such as when our courses were cruelly reduced to merely counting for Foreign Language credit, rather than either for Foreign Language or Unified Arts — meaning that students were once able to take Latin in lieu of Woodshop), I’ve seen the program steadily grow in both enrollment and the diversity of our course-offerings.  While I do incorporate some spoken Latin into my teaching, and can appreciate the efficacy of the methods associated with it, I will admit that I remain, for a variety of reasons, fairly traditional in my own pedagogy.
I recently posted some comments of dubious utility on this very blog regarding what texts I was planning on using to get Sisyphus’ boulder rolling this year (as it can feel around this time, when one notes how much seems to have been forgotten over the summer).  I should also mention my fondness for Kahoot!, though this resource would only be in my metaphorical “bag,” as I have so far failed, despite my best efforts, to capture the elusive Internet.  It takes so little time to put together a review game with Kahoot!, and I can have the students play individually or in groups, with our Chromebooks or with their own phones.

Emily Landau

I’m in my tenth year of teaching Latin in independent single-sex (male) boarding schools. My academic background is in Silver Age Latin (particularly Tacitus, Seneca, and Horace), historiography, and historical linguistics. I’m fond of spoken Latin, Latin orthography, etymology, the reading method of language acquisition, and the fact that our profession is finally moving away from the endless recitation of declensions of conjugations. Mirabile visu!
In my bag you’ll likely find my Macbook Air, one or more volumes of the Cambridge Latin Course, the script for whatever show I’m directing that trimester (I’m also head of drama), and exactly one functioning writing utensil. If you ask me if I have a pen or pencil, I will pretend to search through my bag for a minute, and then sadly tell you that no, I can’t find one.

Stephen Farrand

Salvete, contubernales! I’ve been teaching Latin to high school students, on and off, for 30 years. I’ve worked in both private and public schools in 4 states. I hope to finish my career with my current job at Maine Coast Semester at Chewonki, where I work part-time. I have been a proponent of oral Latin in the classroom for a long time: I remember sitting at a Mensa Latina at CANE with Alan Dobsevage in about 1989, and I shocked my fiancee by speaking Latin to my uncle (a Jesuit) at a family gathering in 1990. I’ve also worked hard to learn Russian, so I speak a modern language with a case system like Latin’s and flexible word order.
My best tool is Google Classroom. As a part-time teacher, it’s a really convenient way for my students to stay in touch with me when I’m off campus, and for me to get assignments and handouts to them. I like the fact that it puts documents, audio and video clips on an equal footing.  I have my students listen to and make audio recordings quite a lot, and this summer I began to familiarize myself with Garage Band editing. I have a ways to go, but I think it’s going to be worth the effort. And I’m big on colored markers–always travel with a full set from room to room (I haven’t had my own classroom since 1989!)

Jenny Dean

Salvēte! I teach middle school Latin at a small independent day school in Connecticut. This will be my fifth year teaching Latin at this level. My teaching bag includes a bunch of old things and a few fun and new. Since I started teaching, I have enjoyed using a cache of small whiteboards left in my classroom by a previous (genius) teacher. They are fun for kids to draw on and useful props in a variety of games and activities. Another item which has been stuffed in my bag for a while now is a set of long swaths of fabric, which function as quick a toga, a hood, a cape, or whatever a student might need. Costumes help students get into character and leave their non-Latin selves outside the door. A new item in my bag will be a whole new set of highlighters, which will be helpful for color coding sentences. Diagramming or color coding can be a great way for some students to see simple sentence structure and remember the function of different parts of speech. Lastly, my bag this year will include the camaraderie of a new Latin teacher. Although I will miss my former colleague, I’m so excited to welcome a new Classics friend into the faculty at my school, and I look forward to collaborating with him on field trips, student events, and curriculum design.

A Response to Mary Beard 3

I wanted to write a response to Mary Beard’s August 11th “A Don’s Life,” entitled “What does the Latin actually say?” because I think it hits on a lot of the struggles Latinists are having but don’t talk much about, and why I think it means we should as a community start to reconsider at the collegiate level what we actually want graduates of our programs to be able to do. You should go read the essay (and even the comment thread if you dare) but in essence Professor Beard grapples with the idea that she “would never quite feel [she] had mastered the languages I thought I was trying to learn.”
In it she also talks about how difficult Latin can be for her. While reading classical canon authors there’s always a translation to fall back on, but with a set of 16th century texts she’s consulting for a project there are no translations or commentaries, and she (bravely, I think) discusses her difficulties in reading them.
In her essay I see my own past and struggles. I’ve had the opportunity to work with many people (professors to teachers to undergraduates from all kinds of backgrounds), and so I know from experience that many people have had the same experiences as Professor Beard. The fact that most graduates of Classics programs, and even Classics professors themselves have a hard time reading texts outside of their specialty is I think an issue worth talking about. We’ve focused so long on grammatical knowledge, philology, and close readings that, while we’ve produced excellent analysts, we don’t generally experience Latin as a language in the same way we do English or another modern language, and that can have consequences.
Take the AP Latin course as an example.  It never asks students to work in Latin, and translation is always the end goal.  That back and forth can be slow and inefficient.  It sometimes means that students don’t really understand what they’re reading – I’ve heard many stories from AP scorers of beautiful translations they’ve read but that come from a different passage than the one the candidate was asked to translate. How many times have you overheard a student complain that “I know all the words, but I don’t know what it means?”
And if we ourselves in the course of our research find something difficult, we compensate by reading translations and referencing commentaries because, as Professor Beard puts it, “most of the classics we have to read…are so damn difficult.” She suggests that “Thucydides or Tacitus…was probably almost as baffling for native speakers too”, and in a post-essay comment dated August 13 at 10:36 am (Eastern) she challenges “anyone who has taught Tacitus’ Annals not to have used [the hunt for the verb method]” and bets “that was true for the teachers of the second century AD too!”
Except that that can’t possibly be true. Plenty of people in antiquity and in the Renaissance were able to read ancient authors without more trouble than we would read Shakespeare or Chaucer today. Universities and the Catholic Church regularly used Latin as internationally as we use English today to discuss heady problems of science, theology, law, and philosophy. Was everyone’s Latin superb? Of course not – but then we have a wide range of English proficiency today as well.
Professor Beard admits we can’t read those authors with the same level of fluency today because we don’t learn Latin actively as a language. Many modern language studies show that real fluency at the levels needed to understand these kinds of texts comes from use and from extensive reading. I’d like to ask an honest question – are we satisfied as a profession about the level of reading proficiency personally and with our graduates? And if we’re not, what could we be doing differently? Looking to the past (the humanist tradition in Erasmus and others) and the present (modern language studies) can provide insight into improving our reading proficiency across a wider range of authors and time periods.
I’ve seen first hand what a more active approach to Latin – treating Latin as the language it is rather than a cultural artifact to study – can do for proficiency. I’ve seen people who can read a wide variety of authors from different time periods without much more recourse do a dictionary than I would for something written in English. I’ve seen people give both prepared and ex tempore lectures in Latin on topics ranging from philology to history to science. The Paideia Institute offers a weekend conference in New York where nearly all the lectures and discussions are done in Latin. The University of Kentucky offers a Master’s program in Latin where students read, write, and discuss only in Latin. I’d like to think that the people involved in these programs aren’t any more extraordinary than you or I, but simply have taken a divergent path in the yellow woods, and that has made all the difference.
So I come back to my original question – what is it that we want students with Classical degrees to be able to do?  What should be the expectations for fluency for those with a BA in the Classics, a Master’s, or a PhD?  Why don’t we think it’s important to train our students to discuss, read extensively, and write in Latin?
These are questions well worth exploring.

Old Languages, Vesuvius' Anniversary, and the Olympics: Links August 25

Here are some items we’ve found interesting online this week:

  • James Harbeck at The Week has an article on how old languages add new words.
  • Jesse Fokke is writing some online serialized fiction set in the ancient world.
  • Mary Beard has caused some pedagogical stirrings with her struggles to read Latin outside of her usual time period in “What does the Latin actually say?”  Make sure to wade through the comments section for extra fun!
  • Sarah Bond has an hour-by-hour account of the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius on the anniversary of Pompeii’s destruction at Forbes.
  • Finally, since the Olympics just finished, we thought you’d enjoy two articles – the first, about the Epinikion from Slate Magazine, and the second from The Atlantic about Olympic cheating.