Monthly Archives: October 2017

MAFLA 2017

I was an attendant of this year’s Massachusetts Foreign Language Association conference held in Springfield, MA. This is my second time attending a MAFLA conference and already it seems to have grown quite a bit with modern language pedagogy more and more become a boon to the language classroom and instructor therein. I attended sessions that focused on Latin specifically, sessions that use applicable modern language methodologies (from here on in, I will drop the ‘modern language’ in favor of just ‘language pedagogy’), and the keynote address from 2016 ACTFL Teacher of the Year Award recipient Dr. Ted Zarrow. Below I will outline only the highlights of what I saw, heard, and some take-aways.
Firstly, I went to a session in which Mary Elizabeth DeCamp outlined her experience during the Paideia Institute’s Caesar in Gaul program. In this program, of which I am also a prior attendant in the same year as DeCamp, teachers and aspiring teachers go together throughout France to explore Rome’s occupation of the region and Caesar’s conquering of the region whilst additionally reading Caesar’s Commentariī dē bellō Gallicō. We are exploring Caesar as more than just a conqueror but also as man, leader, stylist, author, grammarian, and Roman citizen (with his inclusion into the AP syllabus in mind, though not exclusively). All this is conducted alongside leading scholars Luca Grillo and Christopher Krebs. DeCamp’s presentation focused on presenting aspects of this Roman occupation through presentation of images and description. The program, in my esteem, is far worth the time and money.
The next two sessions I attended were conducted by graduate students from UMass Boston and UMass Amherst respectively. The argumentum of UMass Boston’s presentation conducted by Daphne Bissette and Daniel Hendricks was assessing students without the use of translation. This was a welcome sight among the Latin panels as many of us in the Latin classroom teach as we learned, with translation as the end and not the means.
If I may digress slightly, I believe that translation is a useful activity for many reasons and not a ‘dirty word’ in language pedagogy. Reasons for its inclusion in curricula of many language classrooms include clear comprehension checks, differences in idioms between languages, meaning establishment before active use, and the like but it is just that: an activity. Translation should be a means (and not the only nor the best one), not the only end, meā quidem sententiā.
Bissette and Hendricks effectively outlined some potential activities one can use for grammar comprehension, vocabulary assessment and reading comprehension. Such activities included comic strips, cloze passages, dividing passages into sense units, and sample reading comprehension questions that went beyond the quid and quis and moved to the cūr. This presentation effectively challenged our common notions on how to assess Latin understanding in favor of a system that is both more organic for students and is supported by recent second language acquistion research.
From UMass Amherst, the resident graduate students worked in pairs to develop three presentions to address the connections standards so that teachers may more effectively relate Classics to other disciplines. The first of these presentations conducted by Chris Wilson and Violet Scott discussed a connection between ELA and Classics, specifically in poetry. What was most intriguing was the Roman poet Optatianus who utilized concrete poetry through which he hid messages in otherwise intelligible poems; a sure hit among students.
Next Kendall Farkas and David Jaffe presented on connecting the sciences, praesertim chemistry, through the nomenclature of the chemical elements. Some of these names were rather obvious and would be to students but as one does more exploring, as Jaffe and Farkas did, some of the elements have a rather ‘colorful’ history as with Rubidium, which you might expect to be red from rubidus but you’ll find the alkali metal is actually silver but through its emission spectrum, comes up as the darkest red. Aulus Gellius references rubidus in his Noctēs Atticae as the darkest red in Latin. This all was thought of by the two German scientists Bunsen (c.f. bunsen burner) and Kirchoff  who not only discovered and named the element but also, most interestingly, foot-noted Gellius himself and the passage in which he describes the color.
Among the last of UMass presenters, Meghan Clary and Amelia Wallace discussed the diffusion that occurred on the Silk Routes between Rome and Han-era China. Pliny the Elder accounts of some interactions between these two peoples and there is a second centruy CE text titled The Chronicle of the Western Region which describes the Romans through a Chinese perspective. All in all, I found all the above presentations compelling and suitable for the classroom.
Finally, perhaps the peak of the conference for me was Dr. Ted Zarrow’s keynote speech concerning his experience as a teacher, as ACTFL’s ‘Teacher of the Year,’ and thoroughly well-considered words about the future of not only language teaching but also of our own nation. Dr. Zarrow impassionedly expressed the necessity of language learning for our modern world (for any world, for that matter) in which we must concentrate on building bridges rather than walls. The phrase that most prominently stuck out in this speech was his words of both admonishment and encouragement: ‘we are all advocates.’ Dr. Zarrow argued, and quite compellingly, that it is not only the foreign language teacher’s job to advocate for language learning and its many, many benefits but, rather, it is the responsibility of every person who has participated in a foreign language experience to realize and advocate for the importance of learning languages and living in a world of multilinguality. Seeing Dr. Ted Zarrow speak twice now, I can fully understand the merit of his receipt of this prestigious award, one which does not often come to Latinists but, I believe, has a rich future among our cohort of expert pedagogues.

Taking baby steps into Living Latin 1

After a little under a decade of of strict, schoolmarm-ish attention to the old-fashioned grammar-translation method of Latin, last year I had my perceptions realigned by Justin Slocum Bailey’s Eidolon article Teaching Latin to Humans. Specifically, one line cut to my heart; Mr. Slocum Bailey writes that, largely, students educated under the traditional grammar-translation method find themselves “trying to read a language they don’t know.”
In one short phrase, the truth of every traditional Latin class I’d ever taken was laid bare. I cannot count the number of times a class that was ostensibly about Latin poetry, literature – art – became hung up on some obscure subordinate clause or irregular verb form that derailed an entire session. I can’t count the number of times I was faced with a translation where I had to look up every single word in a Cicero speech and then piece it together like a cryptographic puzzle. That more than a few of my teachers seemed to view Latin as some sort of hilariously perverse punishment rather than an organic language the people spent their entire lives speaking had always felt somehow wrong to me.
I can state for a fact that, for the entirety of my education, I did not in any meaningful sense “know” Latin. And the same was true for the vast majority of my classmates. And yet, until I read that line, I hadn’t bothered to question any of it. Translating complex political speeches without being able to hold a simple conversation in the language, well, that’s just the way Latin isIt isn’t a language; it’s a cipher.
So this year, I resolved to become part of something resembling The Solution. I was no longer going to teach my students to read a language they don’t know; I was going to, quite simply, teach my students a language. I have eliminated declension and conjugation charts from my classroom. I have cut back drastically on homework. I am able to accomplish an enormous amount in class with speaking and listening exercises, choral translations, and circling. Blogs like Keith Toda’s Todally Comprehensible Latin and groups like Teaching Latin for Acquisition have become fixtures for me.
Speaking as someone who’s generally skeptical about whatever the hot education trend of the moment is – Step right up, “grit”! Hello there, “mindfulness”! Take a bow, “growth mindset”! – I feel I cannot overstate the difference this change in approach has made for my classes. None of my students are lost, even the ones who would undoubtedly be struggling in a traditional grammar setting.
While I will not fully discount the benefits of the grammar approach to learning Latin (the old refrain “Latin was the best [or only!] English grammar teacher I ever had” is true for me and for many people I know), I would now very much label myself, in the words of Mr. Toda, “a recovering grammar-translation Latin teacher.” Despite receiving high praise over the years for my “old school” grammar approach to teaching, and having many students who responded positively to it, I know for a fact that a very large number of others ultimately fell out of love with the language. I grieve for these students, and wonder how many of them might still be taking Latin had my approach not been different. I look forward to seeing whether this new approach yields positive outcomes; what I’ve seen so far looks promising.

Quid Agitur? (October 22)

  • On Tuesday, October 24, Isabella Tardin-Cardoso of the University of Campinas in Brazil will be presenting at Amherst College on imitations of Plautus in Brazilian comedy. The lecture is entitled The Saint and the Sow: Poetics of Illusion in a Brazilian Imitation of Plautus. For more information, please follow the link to the Amherst Classics Department.
  • Additionally, there will be a wide variety of lectures in events taking place in the Boston area this week. Please see the Boston Area Classics Calendar for more information.
  • The Western Massachusetts Conversational Hour meets every Thursday  at the Esselon Cafe in Hadley, MA for Latin conversation. For details, please contact TJ Howell.
  • Central Connecticut State University is working to create a certification program for the teaching of Latin. Follow this link to the program of studies. In order to make this idea come to fruition the CCSU is seeking support from Latin groups. They require at least 10 students to sign up for the upcoming cohort in order to run the program. As an incentive to enroll into the program the University is looking for funding to offer scholarships to help defray the cost of course work. If you are interesting in supporting this initiative in any way please contact Gina Gallo Reinhard at
  • Grey Fox Tutors is offering a free weekly Skype Conversational Latin Workshop for all current or former Latin teachers or TAs. The Workshop is an opportunity for teachers to gain Latin speaking skills that they can then use in their own classrooms. It is currently held on Saturdays at 2 PM EST; additional times and days, however, may be added in the future as needed. For more information please contact Katerina Ourgi at or call (212) 203-8734. There is also a survey to determine the best times to offer professional development over the summer.