Samohi – Setting for Pacifica & Barnabus et Bella

At the end of my SoCal visit, I observed for two days at Santa Monica High School (Samohi).

The students at this public high school of 3100+ impressed me with their commitment to learning and awareness of current educational theories.  I observed two Latin II, two Latin I, and one Latin III class each day.  The sizes of the classes ranged from 19 to 28.

Both the two Latin teachers and the entire Languages Department work together towards common goals shared by both ACTFL and Common Core in California.  Both Latin teachers have a double-sided sign on their front boards.  One side reads, “Anglice Licet,” and the other, “Tantum Latine!”  These indicate for the students when English is allowed and when the expectation is that they will speak only in Latin.  When speaking in Latin, every student adheres to the rules – even in Latin I.  They don’t speak beyond simple phrases, but they are willing to try.  I loved seeing this.  From what I observe, this expectation is made clear from the beginning of the year.   In addition, both classes strongly believe in the value of collaboration.

In one class, I enjoyed watching Luke Henderson call on students by randomly choosing names from Popsicle sticks divided by class.

As he introduced new vocabulary words, he used personalization to strengthen the meaning.  For instance, he introduced the word for dining room, triclinium.  He then asked students who had dining rooms and what they did in that room.  The students responded in Latin.  Luke typed and projected the sentences as he and the students spoke.

He also led the students to correct their own speaking errors by patiently waiting for them to figure out the correct answer while he provided clues.  In general, I was impressed by the patience of both teacher and students.

In a Latin III class, students peer-edited each other’s five-paragraph essays in Latin with a guide for what specifically to look for.  The students earned points for completing the task.  Although I didn’t observe this, Luke let me know that the test the students would soon take would be done cooperatively.

Humor was liberally employed by both teachers as a method for creating a safe environment for learning.


Touring & Reconnecting

Over the long weekend, we had an opportunity to tour some of the amazing resources near LA.  Highlights include:

  • Gamble House 
  • Huntington Library and Gardens 
  • Getty Museum

I am especially looking forward to finally seeing the Getty Villa at the end of the weekend.

I also reconnected with high school friends and joined the Santa Monica juice craze in the hope that it would cure me.

Driving Miss Bloomberg & a Tale of Two Jacqui(e)s

Thanks to my wife’s willingness to brave the streets of LA, I was able to observe today at the Mirman School for Gifted Children.

Jacque Myers, the sole Latin teacher, teaches six classes of Latin – in one day!  I so admire her energy, flexibility, commitment to CI (Comprehensible Input) practices, and willingness to share with me.

Today I witnessed the incredible gift that CI brings to students.  The Upper School, where Jacque teaches, includes students from ages 10-14.  Jacque taught class in Latin, and every student was engaged.  The students knew signs/gestures for their vocabulary words, understood ordinal numbers well enough to talk about days in the calendar, pages in their textbooks, and lines of text, and both asked and answered questions in Latin.  Jacque chose student actors in each class by randomly picking names of students on Popsicle sticks.  The students were willing to play whatever part was chosen for them, and they dramatized their stories to indicate comprehension.  Jacque checked vocabulary comprehension a number of different ways in the four different levels I observed:

  1. Give a word and expect students to respond with sign or gesture
  2. Give a sign or gesture and expect students to respond with the word
  3. Show a picture and expect students to identify the word
  4. Show the words and give a Latin definition of the word – the students then identify the word

Every class followed a similar agenda:

  1. Salutationes
  2. Words/phrases of the week – usually reviewed on Fridays, but this week Thursday was the last day of the week
  3. Calendar  – class recitation of the full date, “Hodie est Dies Iovis, ante diem undevicesimum Kalendas Februarias.”
  4. Vocabulary Review (vide supra)
  5. Reading of story by teacher
  6. Acting of story by students
  7. Reading comprehension worksheet
  8. Final activity – game or something students choose to do

I loved the student work on the walls and the labeling of items in the room.


Jacque shared openly with me her goals for each of her classes, her struggles and achievements.  If I didn’t already love Latin, watching these students would have made me fall in love.  They were having fun, learning, interacting with each other and the teachers and demonstrating typical middle-school behavior.  They clearly enjoyed watching the video camera (although this changed a bit as the age increased), and they weren’t embarrassed to display their excitement.

The Spinning Top

In book eleven of Vergil’s Aeneid, Amata, Lavinia’s mother, is compared to a spinning top as she realizes that Turnus and Aeneas will fight and that her daughter will be the prize.  Wanting to emulate the ancient epics in every way possible, my top went spinning today, and I ended up in the LA ER with vertigo.


I hope to be back on the road, with my loyal wife as driver, in a day or two.  Even in the epics, they have to take a rest.

Possunt quia posse videntur.

According to the Harvard-Westlake website, this Vergilian quotation is translated, “They can because they think they can.”  The literal translation is, “They are able because they seem to be able.”  I spent the day at their middle school today, a school of 727 students in grades seven to nine.  In the morning, I had the pleasure of observing an orchestra rehearsal, a coaching of a French horn-tuba duet, and touring the impressive performing arts facilities.  While listening to the rehearsal of the Grieg Piano Concerto, I realized they were speaking my language – not Latin of course, but the language of musical rehearsal.  I ache to be back in that environment.  The students here have such incredible opportunities.  Mercedes indicated to me that a number of the students in the orchestra, including the horn player, would be in her classes later in the day. 

Just look at that concentration.  They can because they think they can.

Following the mini-tour of the performing arts facilities, Mercedes led me to the World Languages department office.  What an amazing space!  Each department has a similar space.  Here, taking up the middle of the room was a table for collaborative work, and around the perimeter of the room were individual desks and spaces for each teacher in the department.  I particularly enjoyed  the rounded ends of each space which facilitated student-teacher conferencing.

Perhaps the saddest part of the day was seeing that Mercedes and her one Latin colleague haven’t yet found a way to collaborate.  They have different goals for their students.  In a field where many of us are trying to alter the image, this creates a frustrating obstacle.  It is hard to be a vox clamantis in deserto. Collaboration, both for learning and teaching, is essential.  Mercedes modeled this practice both with other colleagues in the school as well as in her classes.

I observed three classes, two 1B classes, in which 8th graders complete their second year of Latin study, and one III H, which is created for those ninth graders who place into the 1B class in their first year at HW.  What I loved included:

  • A Latin agenda run by student volunteers
  • A Latin discussion of the calendar projected at the front of class
  • The use of the WAYK (Where Are Your Keys?) copycat hand gesture, clearly understood by the class
  • The use of the acronym NPR, another WAYK technique called a no pressure refresher
  • Giving the III H students artwork to label with words from the text they are reading
  • References to grammatical explanations as grammar scaffolding and tangential linguistic points of interest

  I will add video clips after I have had a chance to edit them.  Thank you, Mercedes!


From Denver to LA

In a soul-restoring stop in Denver, I was cared for by my sister and her family, saw a former student, reconnected with cousins, and met my wife’s junior-high classmate from a school in Rome.  We ate at Lo Stella, an outstanding Ligurian restaurant, where Liz conversed with the owner in Italian to discover why the grammar was so unusual.  He explained the linguistic habits of the region and enjoyed hearing that we would soon be traveling there.  Today we travel to LA, where I will prepare for my first day of school.

First Day Back to … School?

Today, I watched my colleagues return to school for a Professional Day.  While I certainly appreciated the extra sleeping time, I did find myself wondering what I was missing, but only long enough to remind myself that I now had time to do what I’ve wanted to do so many times.  Instead of just aggregating articles and blog posts and links, I sat down and read an entire post, from the beginning, through every hyperlink,  to the end.  Of course, with our current social media, there really isn’t an end, but I felt that sense of completion that I so rarely feel. I look forward to completing my thoughts, being able to pursue my distractions guiltlessly, and finally setting to paper (in digital form) what I propose to do with this sabbatical.


It’s happening.  I’m starting my sabbatical and my first blog at the same time.  I will use this space to post observations from the classes I visit and photographs from the places I explore.  Glis, my classroom dormouse, will accompany me on my travels, just as she does for my auspicious beginning.