Teaching


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

 
 


De Arte Coquinaria

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Many teachers of classics include in their curriculum a unit on Roman dining, whether through reading Petronius’ Cena Trimalchonis at the upper levels, or a story inspired by this piece in Cambridge Latin Course’s Stage 32, or Ecce Romani chapters 32-34, or Lingua Latina’s Chapter 30.  Teachers may also incorporate some kind of actual Roman banquet into their year, perhaps combining it, as I do, with an awards ceremony.
What I’d like to propose in this article is to take this to the next level, and to present an idea to focus on food and cooking per se, where students will have the chance to explore in greater detail ancient foods, their preparation, stories and myths having to do with food, and at the same time be able to use Latin actively to explain an authentic activity (i.e. cooking).
Depending on the year, I use this project to fulfill a number of linguistic and cultural goals:

  • accusative case review (including in + acc vs. in + abl.)
  • commands (imperatives or subjunctives, depending on level)
  • future tense
  • purpose clauses
  • improving food and dining vocabulary
  • practicing both presentational speaking and listening skills
  • examination of herbs, plants, and animals – their mythology and relationship to food
  • exploring the Cena Trimalchionis
  • myths that include food / hospitality (Baucis and Philemon, innumerable scenes in the Aeneid, Erischthon, etc.)
  • Planning a convivium for an awards night

The idea is for students to make a video that showcases a particular recipe, perhaps in the style of a Food Network cooking series.  Students must explain in Latin (appropriate to their level) how to cook their recipe and must name all the ingredients to be used.  During the video they must also share a story that relates to some ingredient included in their dish.  My own students have done, as examples, the apple of discord, Cato’s warning to the Romans about how close Carthage is by ‘accidentally’ dropping a fresh fig from his toga in the Senate, Appius Claudius and the drowning of the sacred chickens, or a medieval story about how the Queen Elizabeth of Hungary once had her paralysis cured by a hermit who suggested she soak rosemary in wine and then rub it into her limbs.
Videos tend to be about 10 minutes long and can be quite creative!  Here’s an example from one of my Latin 3’s scripts this year (written entirely by students with some suggestions):

E: quid primum faciemus?
 
G: primum, calefacite furnum ad trecentesimum septuagesimum quintum gradum. deinde, farinam in catillo ponite, et salem aeratum addite. farinam et salem aeratum cochleare miscite.
 
E: quid tum faciemus?
 
G: deinde, miscite amygdalam in frusta secata, cinnamum, et ros marinum. tum miscite succum ex uvis, succum malorum granatorum, et mel in poculo. lac addite.
 
E:pulchre fecisti Giuditta! auxilium visne?
 
G: sic! (Electrae dicit) funde primam mixturam in secundam mixturam et misce. feram atroptam rotundam novem unicarum.
 
E: bene redolet!
 
G: quidem!  (omnibus dicit) nunc fundite mixturam in ferculum et triginta minutas cibum in furno coquite.
 
E: Malum granatum esse signum Proserpinae scisne?
 
G: certe?
 
E: sic! Quando Proserpina puella erat, Hades puellam abstulit. Hades Proserpinam in Tartarum tulit, quod Proserpinam amavit. Dum in tartaro, Proserpina sex semina mali granati edit. Ergo puella ad terram revenire non potest.

After the videos are made, students vote for the best one, which we then make, using the Latin instructions, in our school kitchen.  In past years, we’ve watched the NLE’s Forum Romanum episode on Apicius while we eat.
I hope that this sparks some ideas for using food in some way in your own classes.  Please share in the comments section anything that you’ve done or resources that you find useful when teaching about food or Roman dining customs.
iubeo te bene coquere et esse!
Further Resources

  • Piper Salve, a German neo-Latin textbook which has in the back several dialogues pertaining to cooking as well as extensive useful vocabulary.
  • Anna Andresian’s Vocabula Picta, which includes a chapter on vocabulary in the kitchen.

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