Latin


Reflections on Teaching 3

This week’s guest post comes courtesy of Eleanor Arnold, a Latin teacher in Athol, MA.  She has some frank and honest reflections on her first year teaching struggles and how she turned things around.


My first year as a high school Latin teacher was a trainwreck. The kids and I were both miserable. They hated Latin, and I was starting to hate Latin too. I was trying to teach Latin the way I had learned it and successfully taught it as a graduate student through charts, parsing and translating. But for these students and in this setting- rural poverty, students with little or no expectation of going to college- it just wasn’t working. A more experienced teacher would have handled things better, but they got me instead.
Midway through the year, I found out about Comprehensible Input, which you can learn more about at LIMEN. I spent the rest of the school year going to workshops, reading blogs, and experimenting. Things improved.  Basically, the goal of every activity is the same: expose students to Latin they can understand.
To ensure understanding, the idea is to “shelter vocabulary” tightly to a small group of words that have the highest frequency in Latin literature. The students have the time to internalize the words, rather than “learning” them for a quiz and then forgetting. There’s no “hard grammar” anymore. I taught indirect statement in Latin I by presenting it in conversation every day for a week, and they have no problem understanding it now. They memorized noun and verb endings, but our goal is always comprehension, not production or identification. When we read in our native languages, we don’t think about the grammar or play “find the verb.” We just read, and pictures appear in our minds. I want my students to experience that with Latin, and bit by bit they’re getting there.
You don’t have to use spoken Latin to do CI, but it helps. The more I speak with my students, the better they read. It’s as simple as that. For me, a wonderful side effect of speaking Latin is that I get to engage with the language I love in a totally new way, and my Latin is improving as a result.  You also don’t really have to be very good Latin speaker to use it in a Latin I classroom, but I find that the more I do it, the better I want to become.
I have had to let go of a lot of things I believed in. I don’t worry as much about accuracy any more, so long as my students understand the gist. Assessments are totally different: they’re based on comprehension, not translation. The goal now isn’t to parse, but to actually read. Because we’re not working on a word-for-word level, I can help struggling students without it feeling like cheating. When a student gets something almost right, I can celebrate with them instead of chastening them because the tense was slightly off.
As for results? They are learning Latin in a way they never were last year. Even the lowest performing students can read and write some Latin. It’s certainly not Cicero, but passages that would have taken them two hours to translate last year take fifteen minutes now. Enrollment is up for 2016-17. Incredibly, I’m not doing any more prep or grading than I did last year, and the prep I do have to do is more interesting than making up a translation test or vocabulary quiz. Last year, I’d hear “I hate Latin.” This year, I hear “Latin is my favorite class.” Kids write things like “Tyler optima est” on my board. Another classmate may insert a “nōn” in there, but it’s all good: they’re playing with Latin instead of fighting it.
There’s no magic bullet for language learning. I’m still tired at the end of the day, and I still struggle with classroom management and participation. But we’re not miserable any more, and even the bad days are more interesting and productive than my good days were last year. I’d call that a success.


A New Latin Program: A Success Story!

We’re all used to hearing bad news: “Latin program being eliminated!”or….“I’m being reduced to half-time!”
In the current climate it’s important to hear some good news. I have some to share, and I encourage all of you to send me other positive stories to me so that I can share them to the rest of our CANE readers.
Plaistow, NH, located in southeastern New Hampshire (pop. 7600), is home to Timberlane Regional High School. About 1400 students attend Timberlane, but until this current year none of them could take Latin. That has changed. This year, six students are taking Latin in a pilot program under the guidance of new teacher and program builder, Michael (Mike) D’Angelo (University of New Hampshire, 2013). But it gets better; 25 students have so far signed up to take first-year Latin next year (and eight others will be taking “The Classical World”), and the school has made a commitment to support the program at least into the second year, and perhaps into the third. Right now, Mike is working with the administration to come up with the required standards for the Latin program, which bodes well for the future of Latin in Plaistow.
I had the pleasure of meeting the Principal, Don Woodworth, and Vice-Principal, Sandra Allaire, last December (2015). They graciously talked with me for over an hour and expressed excitement about adding Latin to their curriculum.  One of their motivations, naturally, was that Latin would add prestige to the school, but Don and Sandy also felt strongly that Latin had great potential to transform students’ academic lives.  When I had the honor of meeting the current students I learned that all of them were pleased that they had the chance to take this ancient language.  They told me that the highlight of their year came when the students summoned the courage (oh, to be young!) to contact Mary Beard and ended up having a 30-minute Skype session with the famous classicist!
Please send me any success stories that you know of, but also remember that my role is to help save programs in trouble—but we need to know as soon as possible to mobilize a response.

You may reach R. Scott Smith at the University of New Hampshire, Department of Classics, Humanities and Italian Studies
301 Murkland Hall, Durham, NH 03824 ; by telephone at 603.862.2388 (voice mail) and email, Scott.Smith@unh.edu

 
 


A Journey into the Ablative

Today’s Feature Post is brought to you by Sara Cain, who teaches at Monomoy Regional Middle School in Chatham, MA.
 


Practicing the ablative case is an excellent opportunity for student movement. In Grade 6, on our 8th class meeting, we do an activity called “The Longest Journey.” The classroom is set up with about 12 different Roman place names taped on walls and windows around the room. Students, in groups of 2-4, are told that they must get their group (and their Magistra!) from Africa to Roma, making as many stops around the Imperium Romanum as possible. To make a stop, the group must simply write a grammatically correct Latin sentence. The first stop is the same for everyone, so I give them this model sentence: Marcellus, Clara, Tullia, et Magistra in Africā sunt. The group, of course, does not need to stay together while travelling (an opportunity to practice est and sunt), and some groups even choose to leave Magistra alone in Africā for the entire trip.
 
I usually give 10 minutes for groups to plan their journeys and then we get up in front of our peers – who are anxious to count and beat the number of stops each group has – and travel around the classroom to the places taped up around the room. See the Final Product in action on YouTube. For Grade 6 Latin, I read the scripts in order to fix mistakes as we go. In upper levels, I might insist that group members read their scripts while audience members listen to mistakes and earn extra points for raising their hands and offering helpful edits to their peers.
 
This activity can be tailored to fit upper levels of Latin by increasing the complexity of the sentences that the students must write. When we revisit the activity, we add in second declension places (in Aegyptō, in Nilō, in Rhenō, in opppidō Brundisiō) to practice the second declension ablative. Teachers could also choose places that are plural in nature (Athenis, Bruxelles) to provide practice of singular and plural. Another step up would be to use sentence formulas with different prepositions in them: Marcellus ex Aegyptō (ad urbem) Romam venit. The focus could be anything from the locative to verbs of movement to the deponent (vehor) with ablatives of means (nāvi, raedā, equō, etc).
 
This is an engaging, controlled way to practice Latin composition with students at any level. The assessment of the activity can be as simple as participation points or as complex as using a writing rubric and giving each group a score on indicators such as comprehensibility, mechanics, variety of vocabulary and use of the grammatical structure(s) identified.