A Report from the CANE Annual Meeting of 2018

The panel discussing the future of Classics in the session, “Twenty-First Century Classical Education: Quo Vadimus?” From left to right are: Jamie Chisum, Jeri DeBrohun, Jacqui Carlon, Sherry Lewis-daPonte, and Ted Zarrow

What follows is a report I sent to my administrators after attending the CANE Annual Meeting at the University of Rhode Island this past week. I summarize some of the overall themes I encountered in the sessions I attended. If you would like to look at my more detailed (but messy and ad hoc) notes, you can see here. Also visit our Google Drive folder for resources that presenters included, and search for the hashtag #cane2018 on Twitter for thoughts from participants as they live-tweeted the sessions they attended.

I attended the CANE (Classical Association of New England) Annual Meeting on Friday and Saturday, March 16 and 17, 2018 at the University of Rhode Island. Over the course of the two days, I went to nine workshops and presentations. As the webmaster of the organization, I also went to an executive board meeting on Thursday evening.
The majority of the workshops I saw centered on one of two strands. The first was the effectiveness, use, and application of Comprehensible Input (CI) strategies (also known as Active Latin). I have been a proponent for this approach for many years, but it has been more of a theoretical appreciation than a practical reality. This year, I was especially heartened by the plethora of common sense and detail oriented presentations that have given me many ideas for how to run my classroom, create good learning opportunities and instructional strategies, and develop good learning goals. Specific instructional strategies include: creating tiered readings, which scaffold the difficulty of texts so that introductory students can read authentic Latin at an appropriate level; thinking strategically about pre-reading, reading, and post-reading activities; questioning techniques that assess students’ comprehension of texts in the target language; Can-Do statements and how they play a role in developing curriculum and assessing students’ ability along a proficiency continuum; and using puzzles (both ancient and modern) as activators of student interest. Some of the aforementioned strategies or techniques will be immediately actionable, while others will take more time to develop and explore.
The second major theme of the conference (at least insofar as I went to these particular workshops as opposed to others) centered on the relevancy and perceptions of Latin (and other languages) both extrinsically and intrinsically. There was an important plenary session with a panel of Latin educators at the high school and college levels, as well as administrators (principals and vice principals). Some takeaways from the panel and the ensuing discussion were that language and humanities in general are seeing a decrease in interest with the nascence of STEM fields. There is a perception that education is “transactional, not transformational” (I.e. students do X to achieve Y, but don’t learn for the sake of learning). There must also be a better effort to break down misconceptions that Latin is an “elite” field with closed admission. For the field to survive it must be an open tent and accommodating. Classicists ought to be doing a better job at showing the continuing relevance of languages and humanities to the general public, with more public outreach. Some good suggestions are offered below.
Additionally, Latin teachers (and, really, all teachers) ought to be more cognizant of social justice and equality issues with students in our classrooms. Some presenters shared their experiences with using Greek texts to connect with inmates and discuss violence, crime, and punishment. Another talked about using Catullan poetry to connect with students in an inner city Chicago neighborhood. Others showed how teaching material is problematic in how it depicts slavery in the ancient world. The “Happy Slave Narrative” often desensitizes students and teachers alike to the true atrocities of slavery. Another presenter discussed how she tries to include transgender and gender non-conforming students in her classes by respecting their pronouns and creating opportunities to avoid using gendered words (a difficult thing to do in many Romance languages). Overall, these discussions helped me to think about how I frame my classes and explain the past clearly and fairly while creating an accommodating and respectful space for current learners.
More information and specifics can be found in my notes below. As always, I am thankful for the opportunity to go to this conference every year, as I usually find it very enlightening, energizing, and thought provoking on several fronts. The tentative date for next year is March 8 and 9 at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA.

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